Land-Based Wind Turbines with Flexible Rail Transportable Blades - Part II: 3D FEM Design Optimization of the Rotor Blades

Ernesto Camarena, Evan Anderson, Josh Paquette, Pietro Bortolotti, Roland Feil, Nick Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Increasing growth in land-based wind turbine blades to enable higher machine capacities and capacity factors is creating challenges in design, manufacturing, logistics, and operation. Enabling further blade growth will require technology innovation. An emerging solution to overcome logistics constraints is to segment the blades spanwise and chordwise, which is effective, but the additional field-assembled joints result in added mass and loads, as well as increased reliability concerns in operation. An alternative to this methodology is to design slender flexible blades that can be shipped on rail lines by flexing during transport. However, the increased flexibility is challenging to accommodate with a typical glass-fiber, upwind design. In a two-part paper series, several design options are evaluated to enable slender flexible blades: downwind machines, optimized carbon fiber, and active aerodynamic controls. Part 1 presents the system-level optimization of the rotor variants as compared to conventional and segmented baselines, with a low-fidelity representation of the blades. The present work, Part 2, supplements the system-level optimization in Part 1 with high-fidelity blade structural optimization to ensure that the designs are at feasible optima with respect to material strength and fatigue limits, as well as global stability and structural dynamics constraints. To accommodate the requirements of the design process, a new version of the Numerical Manufacturing And Design (NuMAD) code has been developed and released. The code now supports laminate-level blade optimization and an interface to the International Energy Agency Wind Task 37 blade ontology. Transporting long, flexible blades via controlled flapwise bending is found to be a viable approach for blades up to 100 m. The results confirm that blade mass can be substantially reduced by going either to a downwind design or to a highly coned and tilted upwind design. A discussion of active and inactive constraints consisting of material rupture, fatigue damage, buckling, deflection, and resonant frequencies is presented. An analysis of driving load cases revealed that the downwind designs are dominated by loads from sudden, abrupt events like gusts rather than fatigue. Finally, an analysis of carbon fiber spar caps for downwind machines finds that, compared to typical carbon fibers, the use of a new heavy-tow carbon fiber in the spar caps is found to yield between 9 % and 13 % cost savings.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages28
JournalWind Energy Science Discussions
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

See NREL/JA-5000-82136 for final paper as published in Wind Energy Science

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5000-79964


  • 3D FEM
  • Ansys
  • blade design
  • rotor design
  • structural optimization


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