Degradation of turbine blades is an industry-wide problem and their continual replacement costs the wind energy sector a sizeable chunk of its revenue. VTT’s antiAGE project used virtual testing and machine learning to cycle through the almost limitless combinations of different materials that could be used in various wind turbine components, helping to minimise the erosion of turbine blades.
“The blade material erodes due to the effect of rain, hailstones and sand dust, which significantly reduces the service life of wind turbines,” said VTT principal scientist Anssi Laukkanen. “Accelerated replacement of turbines becomes expensive: up to 2–4 per cent of the value of all wind-generated power is lost as a result of this problem.
“It is a question of a classic problem within this particular industry that costs billions of euros and brings additional costs to all wind energy. As wind turbine sizes increase and wind farms are placed out on the sea in increasingly demanding conditions, the significance of the problem becomes emphasised.”
While human ingenuity remains unsurpassed in many ways, the task of virtually testing all the possible combinations of different materials is the perfect role for an AI. What’s more, advances in additive manufacturing meant that the material solutions the AI suggested could be brought to fruition, something that wouldn’t have been possible just a few years ago with traditional manufacturing methods.
“Human perceptive skills are insufficient to visualise all the dimensions related to the optimisation of material solutions,” said Laukkanen. “AI, on the other hand, is capable of unravelling very complicated cause-and-effect relationships, simulating solutions and going through an infinite number of alternatives to find the one that works best in relation to the requirements set.”
The result is a highly durable material that VTT says hardens under mechanical stress. According to Laukkanen, industry has already expressed interest in the material and VTT is now also exploring solutions for other engineering sectors.
“When we published the news about our solution, wind turbine manufacturers became immediately interested in it,” he said. “We are now negotiating details with commercial operators.”