National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) researchers have been exploring the use of thermoplastic composite materials for wind turbines for several years, but they have only just begun to scrape the surface of how these materials perform underwater. For the first time in history, thermoplastic composite blades, which have the potential to revolutionize the marine energy industry, are being tested on a large-scale tidal power turbine.
Previous laboratory-scale research performed at Institut Français de Recherche pour l'Exploitation de la Mer (IFREMER) demonstrated how thermoplastic materials can improve fatigue performance, decreasing the probability for catastrophic blade failures and making tidal turbine blades more sustainable for marine energy applications. The manufacturing process is also faster and more energy efficient. Additionally, thermoplastics, which make up about 75% of worldwide plastic production, can be recycled because the plastic polymer material can be remolded at high temperatures and resolidifies upon cooling.
Thanks to funding from the U.S. Department of Energy's Water Power Technologies Office and a collaboration with Verdant Power, NREL researchers have constructed turbine blades using thermoplastic composite materials and are now testing them on one of Verdant Power's tidal turbines, which are currently deployed in New York City's East River.