Recycable wind turbin blades: Voodin Blades's revolution

Published on 2024-03-01

Startup Story

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Tom Siekmann, managing director at Voodin Blades, discusses how their innovative blade technology is setting new standards in sustainability and efficiency through automated manufacturing systems and new blade materials.


Revolutionizing Wind Turbines with Sustainable Wooden Blades

In 2021, I embarked on a transformative journey with Voodin Blades, driven by a vision to address the critical sustainability challenges in the wind energy sector. Our focus was on the environmental impact of conventional composite turbine blades, notably their carbon-intensive production and problematic end-of-life disposal. Inspired to find a greener alternative, we turned to an age-old material: wood. Its inherent sustainability and favorable material characteristics presented an ideal solution, leading us to develop our pioneering 20-meter wooden blades. This innovation marks not only a significant milestone for Voodin Blades but also a promising step towards a more sustainable future in wind energy.

Our  Innovative Process 

The journey into the sustainable transformation of wind turbines begins with the unique material at the heart of our innovation: Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL), or as we like to call it, "high-tech wood." This isn't just any timber; LVL is a marvel of modern engineering, made by further processing wood into 12 sheets before it even arrives at our facility. This advanced material allows us to move beyond the traditional constraints of finding the perfect tree, offering a standardized, readily available resource with consistent quality.

The production process is a meticulous blend of precision and craftsmanship. We start by cutting the rough outline of the blades from these LVL sheets. The pieces are then carefully stacked and glued together, forming a spheric preform that closely resembles the final blade shape. This preform is then sculpted into the final blade shape through a milling process, ensuring each blade meets our exacting standards for performance and sustainability.

Looking ahead, we're excited about the future of our manufacturing process. While our initial blades were crafted with a significant human touch, we're transitioning towards a more automated production line. We envision a process where 90% of the work is performed by machines, from cutting the LVL sheets to the final assembly and coating of the blades. This shift not only enhances efficiency but also ensures precision and consistency across all our products, marking a significant step forward in our mission to provide sustainable, high-quality alternatives for the wind energy industry.

Sustainable Future in Wind Turbine Manufacturing

Reflecting on our journey at the forefront of sustainable wind turbine production, it's clear that innovation and adaptability are at the core of our operations. Initially, our manufacturing process was heavily reliant on manual labor, a testament to the dedication and skill of our workforce. However, with an eye towards the future, we're transitioning towards a more automated production line. We envision a setup where 90% of the tasks are performed by machines, mirroring the manual processes but with enhanced efficiency and precision. This involves cutting shapes from materials supplied to us, assembling these pieces with robotic precision, and using advanced CNC milling for final shaping. Moreover, automation extends to the application of a cutting-edge, plant-based coating that offers protection comparable to traditional methods but with the added benefit of sustainability.

This shift isn't just about improving efficiency; it's about embedding sustainability into every facet of our product lifecycle. Our innovative plant-based coating is a prime example, providing durability and protection without compromising the environment. This ensures that at the end of its life, a turbine blade can be decommissioned without leaving a lasting environmental footprint.While we currently offer a design suited to older turbine models, our R&D is geared towards accommodating state-of-the-art turbines. The goal is to develop a versatile blade design that can be seamlessly integrated into any turbine model, adhering to a plug-and-play philosophy. This approach not only simplifies the transition for our clients but also underscores our commitment to making sustainable solutions accessible and practical for the broader wind energy sector.

Moreover, our wooden blades surpass conventional expectations in terms of lifespan and maintenance, thanks to their excellent fatigue resistance and protective coatings that shield against environmental wear. This durability is complemented by our commitment to ease of repair and maintenance, achieved through strategic partnerships with leading repair firms. These collaborations have enriched our designs with practical repair solutions, ensuring our blades remain serviceable even under challenging conditions. A standout feature of our approach is the ability to offer customized replacements for any turbine model, at any time, circumventing the industry's challenge of mold-based production limitations. This adaptability not only extends the operational life of turbines but also supports a circular economy within the wind energy sector. 

Transforming Wind Turbine Maintenance with Customizable Wood Blades

Our venture addresses a critical gap in the wind energy sector: the challenge of procuring replacement blades for turbines whose original blades are beyond repair. Traditional production methods, heavily reliant on specific molds for composite blades, severely limit the availability of replacements, potentially sidelining functional turbines well before their service life ends. We circumvent this issue with a flexible manufacturing approach, enabling the creation of tailor-made wood-based blades for turbines of any age or design. This adaptability ensures turbines can continue to operate efficiently, contributing to the longevity and sustainability of wind energy infrastructure.

The reception to our wood-based turbine blades has been notably positive across various audiences. Their natural aesthetic appeals to a broad spectrum, eliciting a tactile curiosity rarely associated with composite materials. Initial skepticism from technical circles typically gives way to interest once we address concerns regarding durability and safety, particularly around fire risks. The dialogue around our solutions often turns into enthusiasm as the benefits and innovative aspects of our approach are fully understood. The encouragement we've received from both the public and industry insiders underscores a collective appetite for sustainable, practical solutions in renewable energy. It validates our mission and fuels our commitment to advancing the deployment of our eco-friendly blades, promising a greener, more resilient future for wind power generation.

Navigating the Path to Innovation

Embarking on the journey of founding a startup in the sustainable energy sector has been both exhilarating and challenging. One of the most unexpected aspects of our journey was the overwhelmingly positive reception from the industry, contrary to our initial expectations of skepticism due to our unconventional approach to wind turbine blades. This validation from industry peers was encouraging, yet it was just the beginning of our challenges.

A significant hurdle we faced was the process of obtaining certification for our first prototype. The novelty of our wood-based turbine blades meant that regulatory bodies, initially confident in their standard certification procedures, found themselves in uncharted territory. This learning curve wasn't just on our side; it extended to the certifying authorities who had to delve deep into understanding the unique properties and behavior of our materials, far removed from the conventional composites used in the industry. This journey through certification highlighted the complexities of introducing innovative materials to a sector with established norms and standards.

Looking ahead, our roadmap is filled with ambitious milestones. The imminent installation of our first 20-meter prototype on a 500-kilowatt turbine marks a significant leap from theory to practice, setting the stage for the next phase of our development. The focus will then shift to the design and theoretical underpinnings of an 80-meter blade, a venture that will propel us into the realm of large-scale production and automation testing. By 2026, our vision includes the establishment of a fully operational factory dedicated to producing wooden blades at scale, marking our transition from startup to a key player in the renewable energy landscape.

As we navigate these next steps, the support and interest from the community fuel our determination. The prospect of seeing our wooden blades integrated into wind farms is not just a testament to our team's hard work but a beacon of innovation in the pursuit of sustainable energy solutions.



About the author

Tom Siekmann