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Higher, Better Wind Turbine Research

A portion of the tower has been built and is being tested. (Image courtesy of Sri Sritharan.)

With the second largest installed capacity, the United States is ranked first in the world in annual wind power production; the U.S. Department of Energy forecasts wind power supplying 35 percent of the nation’s energy by 2050. However, at this time, the United States' East and West coasts lag behind the Midwest in wind energy production, with many Southeast states currently having no wind energy potential. To give these states the ability to generate more wind power, taller (328 to 459 feet) wind turbine towers with larger blades need to be built to capture the faster and steadier winds at higher elevations.

To this end, a multidisciplinary research team composed of scientists and engineers from Iowa State University; Siemens Corporation; Corslab Omaha; the National Renewable Energy Laboratory; and BergerABAM developed the concept of precast concrete Hexcrete hubs to create a more durable, taller wind turbine tower.

Featured in the Journal of the Precast Concrete Institute's November-December 2015 edition, the article tackles the problem of finding a more cost-effective and sturdier solution than building taller steel towers whose fatigue and wear will result in having to be decommissioned after 20 to 25 years. The research team developed two options for the Hexcrete towers (one incorporating a steel tower and the other made of concrete) that have many advantages, including facilitates efficient on-site and off-site prefabrication, does not need specialized formwork, prefabricated modules can be tailored to avoid the need for specialized transportation that steel towers need, the modules can be made locally in United States precast concrete plants, whereas steel tubular towers often need to be produced overseas and shipped to the United States, and increase in wind capture will decrease the number of towers needed for the same amount of energy production and decrease capital and production costs.

The research team has recently secured grants and funding to develop and test these Hexcrete towers, as well as to advance the technology for commercial use. A section of the Hexcrete combination tower has been built and is now being tested. The next step will involve the design of a 459-foot-tall Hexcrete tower to support 2.3 and 3.2 megawatt turbines, and a commercialization plan will be developed to introduce the new tower to the wind energy industry.