Among the challenges that wind power faces, there are not only issues related to the search for increasingly efficient designs, more powerful turbines or formulas that facilitate the expansion of offshore farms, key to its future. He has another equally important challenge ahead: winning in sustainability. The energy it generates may be “green”, but the sector still faces the dilemma of its impact on the environment and the difficulty of recycling certain components. In Sweden they know it well. And that is why they have decided to bet on rethinking wind towers. As? Changing steel for wood.
It sounds shocking, but it has its logic.
Wooden wind towers? That’s how it is. The company RWE Renewables Sweden has just partnered with the manufacturer Modvion to incorporate wooden towers in its future land parks. The objective: to verify the scope of a technology that aspires to reduce the carbon footprint of energy producers and even their bill. What’s more, its promoters assure that it can facilitate the challenge of manufacturing higher infrastructures, capable of taking advantage of stronger streaks.
“Modular glulam towers have significant market potential and can help reduce the cost of new renewable electricity production by replacing steel and concrete with environmentally and climate friendly wood,” explains Lars Borisson, Managing Director from RWE Renewables, who advances that the company “will evaluate Modvion’s wooden tower for possible use in future wind farms.” Both companies are based in Sweden.
And why change the materials? The drivers of the wooden towers handle several arguments. The main one, perhaps, is that they allow the carbon footprint of the sector to be reduced: with the laminated pieces they want to do without or reduce the use of steel and concrete, materials with a notable environmental impact. Our World in Data attributes 3% of greenhouse gas emissions to cement and 7.2% to the steel industry, particularly the manufacture of iron and steel.
“Growing trees fix CO2, which is stored in wood products that act as a carbon sink. Building with wood allows emissions to be radically reduced compared to conventional materials such as steel and concrete,” they point out from Modvion. The company cites a study by the RISE institute which, it says, concludes that the use of a wooden tower reduces emissions by 90% compared to a similar steel structure.
Are there more reasons? RWE and Modvion maintain that it is. And two stand out in a special way. The first is that the pieces of laminated wood are more manageable than the steel structures. By being divided into removable modules, they can be moved from one place to another more easily, without the need to coordinate special transport, road closures or permit processing.
The second reason has to do with the structure and its possibilities. “Laminated wood is stronger than steel in proportion to its weight, which means lighter towers and less need for expensive reinforcements,” explain both companies, convinced that the technology will facilitate the assembly of taller towers.
What are your plans? In addition to announcing their business association and advancing that RWE wants to prepare to include wooden towers in its future parks, both companies specify some short-term plans. Modvion plans to install its first commercial wind turbine already this year, a structure equipped with a Two megawatt turbine and with a height, including blades, of 150 meters. “Subsequently, it has plans for a six megawatt (MW) facility that will be one of the largest turbines used on land,” they slide.
Is it an isolated initiative? No. The truth is that the Swedish proposal coincides with two other closely related trends. One is the weight that wood has gained in construction in recent years, including that of huge infrastructures, such as skyscrapers, precisely because of its advantages as a material and the possibility of reducing the CO2 footprint of the works. The second is the effort made by the wind sector to achieve a more sustainable deployment, a challenge that has been gaining weight as it has captured the focus of public debate.
One of the most recent and interesting efforts in this direction is that of the manufacturer Vestas, which a few months ago presented a proposal to recycle turbine blades made of epoxy. As? Thanks to a chemical solution that allows the resin to be broken down and the resulting material to be reused.
Images: Modvion and RWE