If laminated timber can make an office tower, why couldn’t it make towers for wind turbines? That’s a good question. Considering the latest generation of high tech wind turbines, towers made of wood may seem like a step back in time to the days of windmills. While, the leading wood products firm Stora Enso has teamed up with the lamination experts at Modvion to make wood happen again.
More Wood For More Wind Turbines, Please
Stora Enso is new to the CleanTechnica radar, but Modvion did pop up back in 2020, after it completed its first wooden tower for wind turbines, located on the island of Björkö outside of Gothenburg, in Sweden.
For those of you new to the topic, taller wind turbines can harvest wind resources more efficacy, but construction costs go up as height increases. Transportation costs and obstacles are another key problem. Modvion aims to leap those hurdles with a modular design and a goal of 150 meters or more.
The Björkö tower was built for research purposes in collaboration with the Swedish Wind Power Technology Center and Chalmers University of Technology. It weighs in at 30 meters tall, which is pretty impressive for a first attempt. By way of comparison, the average hub height of on-land wind turbines in the US was about 90 meters by 2020.
Modvion was already setting its sights higher than the research model. “The wood construction is as strong as steel and makes the wind turbine climate neutral from the start. As early as 2022, the first wooden towers will be built on a commercial scale,” the company enthused in a press release dated April 29, 2020.
In June 2020, the EU’s European Innovation Council Accelerator program chipped in with SEK 69 million in funding for commercial development. By then Modvion had already inked a deal for a tower of approximately 100 meters with the local utility Varberg Energi, and signed a letter of intent with Rabbalshede Kraft for 10 towers.
Everybody Loves Wooden Wind Turbine Towers
Things have moved along at a rapid clip since then. In September of 2020, Modvion formed a collaboration with Vattenfall, aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions by at least 25% on the manufacturing end.
Modvion also took note of an October 2020 wind power supply chain analysis by BloombergNEF, which included wood along with the familiar steel and concrete tower construction materials.
“According to BloombergNEF, the advantages of wooden wind turbine towers include low embedded emissions, low weight, ease of transportation, fast assembly, and low volatility in raw material prices,” Modvion observed.
Modvion summarized the pluses and minus of parking wind turbines on a towers made of wood, steel, and concrete:
- Wooden towers, advantages: Low embedded emissions, lightweight — easy to transport and fast assembly, low volatility in raw material prices.
- Wooden towers, disadvantages: Lack of in-field experience, no established supply chain
- Steel towers, advantages: Established supply chain, high strength, recyclable.
- Steel towers, disadvantages: High embedded emissions, high volatility in raw material prices, large diameters difficult to transport.
- Concrete towers, advantages: Local manufacturing, flexible design, high stiffness, low volatility in raw material prices.
- Concrete towers, disadvantages: High embedded emissions, heavy – slow assembly and transportation challenges.
Wooden Wind Turbine Towers & Recycling
The lamination love fest continued last year, when the leading wind power firm Vestas the financial firepower of its Vestas arm in support of Modvion with two rounds of funding in February and June.
“Vestas’ investment will support Modvion’s rapid production scale-up, with a long-term goal of integrating wooden towers in Vestas’ offerings to accelerate market adoption. Modvion will shortly start commercial production while simultaneously planning for its first volume production unit,” Modvion reported. According to Modvion’s website, a 150-meter turbine tower is part of the deal.
Somewhere along the way, Modvion is also engaged with Enel Green Power, which was attracted by the potential for laminated wood to assist with end-of-life recycling issues.
Wood Is Happening Again
The latest twist in the Modvion story is the partnership with Stora Enso, which the two companies announced in a press release last week.
“Using wood, a renewable resource, can reduce the CO2 emissions for the tower by 90% while also storing carbon dioxide that has been taken up by trees during their growth. The wood used for advanced constructions such as wind turbine towers can be reused in new wood-based products which provides further long-term climate benefits,” they pointed out.
“We believe that everything that is made from fossil-based materials today can be made from a tree tomorrow,” Stora Enso emphasizes.
If all goes according to plan, Modvion and Stora Enso will soon be peppering the planet with wooden towers for wind turbines. However, there will be plenty of room for steel and concrete, at least until the laminated wood supply chain catches up.
In the meantime, spiral welding is one new development aimed at cutting the cost of steel wind turbine towers while raising height.
Another up and coming concrete development is the use of 3-D printed concrete bases to bump up tower height while reducing the amount of steel needed.
Implications For Wind Power In The US
All this activity around taller wind turbine towers has some interesting implications for the southeastern part of the US, where wind stakeholders face a double whammy of less-than-optimal wind resources and a less-than-supportive political environment.
Taller wind turbines and reduced costs would knock the pins out from under the wind resources part of that argument, by reaching higher altitudes where wind speeds are more efficient. That would leave anti-wind politicians without much of an argument to hang their hats on, though it’s a safe bet they’ll think of something.
One crack in the armor could be in the area of agriculture and distributed wind, which according to the US Department of Energy includes wind turbines of any size that produce electricity for use on the site. The Energy Department has been exploring the idea of using distributed wind to lower the cost of electricity, fuel, and fertilizer for US farmers. Pressure from agriculture stakeholders in the southeast could help open the floodgates.
Another spark of life has appeared in the offshore sector, where Louisiana has broken out of the pack. Wind resources in the Gulf of Mexico are not particularly awesome compared to the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, but relatively low construction costs, an existing energy infrastructure and the state’s industrial base make a strong bottom line case for offshore wind.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Photo (cropped): Laminated wood for wind turbine towers courtesy of Modvion.
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