ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Researchers from Sandia National Laboratories led a study showing that if developed commercially, a new carbon fiber material could bring cost and performance benefits to the wind industry. According to Sandia, wind blades that contain carbon fiber weigh 25% less than those made from traditional fiberglass materials which means they could be longer, capturing more energy in areas that have low wind.

Switching to carbon fiber could also extend blade lifetime as carbon fiber materials have a high fatigue resistance according to wind energy researcher Brandon Ennis with Sandia National Labs. The Department of Energy’s Wind Energy Technologies Office in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy is funding the project and partners include Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Montana State University.

Sandia National Labs reports that out of all of the companies that produce wind turbines, only one uses carbon fiber materials extensively in their blade designs. Sandia states that wind turbine blades are the largest single-piece composite structures in the world, and Ennis explains that the wind industry could represent the largest market for carbon fiber materials by weight if a material that competed on a cost-value basis to fiberglass reinforced composites was commercially available.

The wind and carbon fiber industries, however, don’t currently overlap. In a press release, Sandia states the wind industry designs wind turbine blades using only commercially available materials and the carbon fiber manufacturers are faced with a hurdle to innovation as a result of high capital costs associated with introducing a new production line for the wind industry.

A research team studied a low-cost carbon fiber developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and discovered that it performed better than current commercial materials when comparing cost-specific properties of most interest to the wind industry. Sandia reports that Ennis and his colleagues discovered that the new carbon fiber material had 56% more compressive strength per dollar that commercially available carbon fiber.

Ennis also explained that other results from using the novel carbon fiber in blade design included decreased weight and increased fatigue lifetime.