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Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Ride the wave: vessels for wind turbine maintenance

The Engineer
Nov 28, 2011

Softening the blow: the craft’s pods adapt to the water’s undulating surface, minimising bumps

A sea craft using supercar suspension could be the solution to maintaining offshore wind turbines.

It’s probably fair to say that wind turbines have become one of the most divisive forms of renewable energy available in the UK.

But whichever side of the fence you sit on, from a purely technical point of view it’s difficult to deny that the wind sector presents some unique and interesting engineering challenges.

For onshore turbines, engineers have risen to this quite impressively, demonstrating an ability to effectively transfer knowledge and skills from other sectors to solve issues such as torque handling with innovative gearless generators, for example.

With offshore, though, there is a whole new set of challenges to tackle and not just from a scale point of view.

Even the most robust turbines will be subject to routine maintenance and unscheduled downtime. So if the planned next-generation offshore mega-farms are going to be cost effective, engineers will need to get to them in potentially rough sea conditions or the turbines will sit idle and lose money (see panel).

For this reason, the UK Carbon Trust - through its industry-backed Wind Accelerator Programme - launched a competition this summer in order to find technologies that might help achieve this. The potential solutions detailed in the entries submitted so far are varied, but one thing they have in common is the need for some kind of vessel that can cope with large waves.

Continuing the tradition in the renewable sector of transferring technologies from other sectors, one of the potential solutions has its roots in the automotive industry.

Nauti-Craft is an Australian company headed by inventor and engineer Chris Heyring. While Nauti-Craft is focused on marine applications, it draws experience and ideas from a previous company co-founded by Heyring called Kinetic, which builds innovative suspension systems for high-performance cars.

These were used by Citroen to win the World Rally Championship in 2003, 2004 and 2005 and by Mitsubishi to win the Paris Dakar campaign in 2004 and 2005 - until, as Heyring puts it, ’they were banned for being too competitive’. The suspension systems are now fitted as standard to the current Toyota Landcrusier and Nissan Patrol off-roaders, as well as the McLaren MP4-12C supercar.


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