Getting Flexible

The wear and tear on traditional rotor blades contributes to the cost of wind power.

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Wear-and-tear is a serious issue in wind turbines, because repeatedly replacing expensive parts increases the cost of the power they generate. The Risø National Laboratory for Sustainable Energy in Denmark is taking on one of the greatest wear-and-tear culprits: the extraordinary load placed on turbine structures when their massive blades rotate [source: Alternative Energy].

To reduce that load, Risø researchers have devised a different kind of blade -- or at least a different kind of edge for it. They believe that a trailing edge that can bend while the blade rotates, creating a smoother flow of air off the blade, will dramatically reduce the load on the support structure [source: Alternative Energy].

Researchers point to the flaps on airplane wings as an example of the concept: Those flaps alter the wing's shape to offer increased control over lift forces during takeoff and landing. A rubber trailing edge, through similar means, could increase the stability of spinning turbine blades, reducing the amount of stress on the components holding them [source: Alternative Energy].

Risø's flexible edge is still in the research and design phase.

Next, a new way to do it offshore ...