Bamboo as a Material for Wind Turbine Blades
As wind turbines continue to gain popularity all over the world as an environmentally friendly and very clean source of energy, the materials used to make the blades on the turbines are evolving in an effort to make the turbines more efficient at harnessing the energy of the wind. The concept of using wind power as energy is an old technology that has become very popular again over the last 40 years as we strive to find clean sources of power to feed our insatiable appetite for energy.
For wind turbine blades, the most desired property is the ability to withstand the effects of exposure and fatigue before the blades need to be replaced and wood offered the best performance vs. cost of any material on the market. Initially, the blades on wind turbines were made of African mahogany for its tight grain and inherent strength. Then poplar became the wood of choice as it offered the same strength as mahogany but was lighter and more plentiful. After that, Finnish birch was found to be lighter and stronger and it became the standard for turbine blade material.
As wind turbines became more prevalent, turbine blades made from carbon composite materials became the most popular choice as they offer a higher stiffness-to-weight ratio which enables the blades to turn more easily and increases the amount of energy that can be produced. But these blades were expensive and required a great deal of energy to produce which offset the benefits of using them to provide 'clean' energy.
Bamboo as the Next Generation Blade Material
Recently, researchers in India have been studying the feasibility of using bamboo as a blade material in small-scale installations as it is light but very strong, locally grown and easily accessible, and quickly renewable. Experiments have shown that bamboo turbine blades have a slightly lower rotational speed compared to other materials which results in less energy produced per unit. But the researchers believe that the lower costs of manufacturing and the fact that bamboo blades are much easier to make could make bamboo a viable blade material for smaller wind farm installations that will supply rural areas with a clean energy source.
In China, where bamboo is plentiful and there are already thousands of bamboo plantations to provide bamboo for textiles, furniture, flooring, and a wide variety of other eco-friendly applications, plans are in place for building hundreds of wind farms using bamboo turbine blades. These farms will benefit the Chinese in several ways: They will provide a much cleaner source of energy than coal-fired power plants, additional jobs will be created in rural areas where young people have few prospects for employment, villages will have increased access to electricity, and the country may experience heightened environmental awareness, to name a few.
It is too early to tell if bamboo wind turbine blades will last as long and perform as well as blades made from other materials but researchers are cautiously optimistic that this can become another innovative use for this quickly renewable and environmentally friendly species of grass.
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