Helping wind turbines cut through ice
The best places for wind farms are in coastal areas, hilltops, open plains and gaps in between mountains; areas with an abundance of naturally occurring wind. Many of these areas experience snow, freezing rain, and seasonal cold weather, sometimes dropping well below zero on a daily basis for months at a time. Ice accumulation on a wind blade erodes its aerodynamic performance and can lead to measurement and control errors, power losses, mechanical and electrical failures and safety hazards. These types of issues reduce the renewable power output and the wind turbine’s operation time. Kapton® RS, an innovative polyimide-based technology for heating applications, has the potential to solve this problem.
Upon initial investigation, we identified over 2,000 wind turbines operating in locations classified as heavy icing regions. These lose 5-20 percent of their annual energy production due to icing issues that restrict when the wind turbines can run. Many solutions are available, but experience reliability and safety issues due in part to the way electrical systems interact with the harsh conditions and dramatic levels of temperature cycling. Determined to overcome this challenge, we set out to develop a retrofit heating system capable of de-icing wind turbines, thereby increasing their availability.
DuPont tested the Kapton® heating system in Penn State’s adverse environment test lab and partnered with a wind farm owner to pilot the heating system in real-world conditions. In October 2020, after a year of trials, the Kapton® RS patch system heaters were confirmed as a success, given their ability to function properly during and after the winter season. We then began a new phase of testing to further improve the design.
The average turbine production capacity in heavy icing areas is 1.8 MW. We set a goal to recover 80 percent of the losses, which equates to four percent of annual production. That recovery rate would replace 259,200 kWh of non-renewable energy and 107 metric tons of CO2 (MTCO2) emissions per turbine. Projecting the CO2 savings to the 2,000+ turbines in heavy icing areas would replace approximately 216,000 MTCO2 annually—the equivalent of taking 47 million gasoline-based passenger vehicles off the road each year.
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