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Economic competitiveness of pultruded fiber composites for wind turbine applications

by Brandon Ennis, Sujit Das, Robert E Norris Jr
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Composites Part B: Engineering
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Pultrusion manufacturing of fiber reinforced polymers has been shown to yield some of the highest mechanical properties for unidirectional composites, having a high degree of fiber alignment with consistent performance. Pultrusions offer a low-cost manufacturing approach for producing unidirectional composites with a constant cross-section and are used in many applications, including spar caps of wind turbine blades. However, as an intermediate processing step for wind blades, the additional cost of manufacturing pultrusions must be accompanied by sufficient increases in mechanical performance and system benefits. Wind turbine blades are manufactured using vacuum-assisted resin transfer molding with infused unidirectional fiberglass or carbon pultrusions for the spar cap. Infused fiberglass composites are among the most cost-effective structural materials available and replacing this material in the cost-driven wind industry has proven challenging, where infused fiberglass spar caps are still the predominant material system in use. To evaluate alternative material systems in a pultruded composite form, it is necessary to understand the costs for this additional manufacturing step which are shown to add 33%–55% on top of the material costs. A pultrusion cost model has been developed and used to quantify cost sensitivities to various processing parameters. The mechanical performance for pultruded composites is improved versus resin-infusion manufacturing with a 17% increase in design strength at a constant fiber volume fraction, but also enables higher achievable fiber volume fractions. The cost-specific mechanical performance is compared as a function of processing parameters for pultruded composites to identify the opportunities for alternative material and manufacturing approaches for wind turbine spar caps. Four materials are compared in a representative wind turbine blade model to assess the performance of pultruded carbon fiber systems and pultruded fiberglass relative to infused fiberglass, where the pultruded systems produce lower weight blades with various cost distinctions.