British firm to design mammoth offshore wind turbines with 275m wingspan that produce three times power of standard models
British, American and Norwegian engineers are in a race to design and build the Holy Grail of wind turbines – giant, 10MW offshore machines twice the size and power of anything seen before – that could transform the global energy market because of their economies of scale.
Today, a revolutionary British design that mimics a spinning sycamore leaf, and which was inspired by floating oil platform technology, entered the race. Leading engineering firm Arup is to work with an academic consortium backed by blue-chip companies including Rolls-Royce, Shell and BP to create detailed designs for the "Aerogenerator", a machine that rotates on its axis and would stretch nearly 275m from blade tip to tip. It is thought that the first machines will be built in 2013-14 following two years of testing.
But the all-British team of designers and engineers, which includes Eden project architects Grimshaw, is in stiff competition with other groups. Earlier this year US wind company Clipper, which has close ties with the US Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, announced plans to build 10MW "Britannia" turbines in north-east England.
Based on a scaled-up version of the conventional wind turbines now common in the British landscape, these giants would be fixed to the sea bed but would stand nearly 600ft above the waves. If they prove technically and financially feasible, each turbine should be able to generate enough electricity to provide 5,000-10,000 homes and, says Clipper, should create energy equivalent to two million barrels of oil in their 25-year lifetime.
Meanwhile, Norwegian firm Sway is planning to build massive floating turbines that would stick straight out of the sea from 100m-deep floating "masts" anchored to the sea bed. An EU-sponsored research project is also investigating 8–10MW turbines, and other American and Danish companies are planning 9MW machines. Full-scale prototypes of all three leading designs are expected to be complete within three years.
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