Chemistry in action: wind turbines

  • Wind turbines are engineering marvels. They must stand firmly on their feet, but at the same time be built light enough for their enormous size.
  • The blades have to be light and aerodynamic and the structure as a whole has to withstand - literally - winds and weather.
  • Numerous chemical applications help make that possible and a lot of them are developed and produced by INEOS in Belgium.

  1. PVC foam allows turbine blades to be increasingly long while remaining light. INEOS Inovyn developed a special PVC resin that is foamed up for use in wind turbine blades. Those blades are getting longer and longer, up to 100 metres. At the same time, they need to be light and robust and the PVC foam makes sure both requirements are met. The strong, long-lasting lightweight rigid PVC foam is used as a core material inside the blade. The PVC brings mechanical strength to the foam and therefor the necessary rigidity and structural integrity, while allowing the core to make up only about 10 percent of the total weight of the blade. Being foamed it also adapts seamlessly to the aerodynamic form of turbine blades.
    The research was done at the INEOS Inovyn R&D center in Jemeppe-sur-Sambre and the PVC is being fabricated at the INEOS Inovyn site in Tavaux, France.

  2. Epichlorohydrin helps sculpt strong wind turbine blades. To create wind turbine blades, a combination of epoxy resins and fibers is used. One of the essential ingredients in producing epoxy resins is epichlorohydrin. These resins are mixed with fibers to form composites that provide the necessary structural integrity for the turbine blades. Given the considerable length of the blades, it is crucial for the materials used to impart stability. Epoxy resins offer strong bonding capabilities and the ability to withstand challenging and varying conditions.
    INEOS Inovyn also offers the bio-attributed epichlorohydrin grade REODRINTM, which reduces the carbon footprint by 70% compared to fossil-based materials.

  3. Epoxy resins provide a salt-resistant finish for offshore wind turbine towers. Wind farms built at sea obviously also need to be resistant to the salt of sea water. This is one of the areas where epoxy resins play a vital role. Wind turbine poles in the North Sea are coated with epoxy resins to protect the structure from salt water corrosion. That said, epoxy resins have many other applications for wind energy. Epoxy resins make it possible to build lighter, enabling longer blades and therefor more energy production per turbine. Epoxy resins have become an indispensable component in offshore, wind energy farms due to their durability and low brittleness, light weight and high mechanical strength.
    Phenol and acetone, both made by INEOS Phenol in Doel, in a condensation reaction form BPA, which in turn is an important building block for epoxy resins.

  4. Blade edges and surfaces last longer in all weathers due to shield protection. Styrolution developed a customized Luran SC material – comprised of blended acrylonitrile styrene acrylate (ASA) with polycarbonate (PC) – based on specifications defined by Edge Solutions in order to create armourEDGE. The armourEDGE shield helps prevent leading-edge erosion on turbine blades, caused by rain, hail, ice, salt and UV light. Such damage to the blade surface can lead to increased drag and ultimately to reduced energy production. As such armourEGDE aids in reducing downtime and maintenance cost. The improved aerodynamics also lead to increased annual energy production.
    INEOS Styrolution has a production site in Zandvliet in the port of Antwerp, but the special Luran SC granulate is made at our Styrolution Cologne and Schwarzheide site in Germany.

  5. PVC films helps keep wind turbines in good shape. Wind turbines are exposed to harsh weather conditions. Especially in offshore wind farms, the conditions take their toll. Coating the towers with PVC film makes them last longer. The films also are more environmentaly friendly compared to paint systems, as they release no solvent vapours which might also be hazardous to health. It also requires less maintenance, which is an expensive and difficult job at sea.
    The Renolit CP film won an INEOS Inovyn Award in 2022. The PVC is being produced in Jemeppe and Tavaux, France.

  6. Long-lasting lubrication oils provide operating reliability of a wind turbine. As wind turbines tend to get bigger and are being installed in challenging, offshore locations, lubrication becomes an even more important factor for all those moving parts in a turbine. This also helps wind farms last longer as it reduces wear and helps reduce costs and transports as less maintenance visits are required.
    In Belgium the INEOS Oligomers site in Feluy produces linear alpha olefins and polyalphaolefins, both used to produce high performance lubricating oils.

  7. High-quality HDPE pipes protect underground high-voltage cables. Throughout Europe, we are investing in onshore and offshore wind farms. The renewable electricity produced must then be transported to homes and businesses for consumption. This is no longer only done through overhead power lines; high-voltage cables are increasingly going underground and therefore need to be protected.
    The research center for INEOS O&P in Neder-Over-Heembeek has developed two new high-density polyethylene (HDPE) grades to meet the requirements of this new application. The HDPE is being produced at the INEOS O&P site in Antwerp-Lillo.

With wind power expanding by leaps and bounds, all those turbine blades eventually need to be recycled.

INEOS Inovyn, together with UGent, North Sea Ports, Engie and Arcelor Mittal, among others, is part of the North C-Blade consortium, which aims to process discarded turbine blades into a gas mixture of hydrogen gas and carbon monoxide, which in turn can be reused as feedstock in the chemical industry. The partnership over a period of 3 years and was one of the circular projects awarded a grant by the federal government within the Belgium Builds Back Circular programme.

Furthermore, at the INEOS Inovyn Awards last year the University of Ferrara in Italy and Swedish-based foam core manufacturer Diab, received a special mention from the jury for their project on recycling the PVC foam from wind turbine blades. They are developing a new depolymerisation process that will allow full reuse of all the original foam components for the rigid PVC foam in the blades.

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