Saturday, November 12, 2011

Wind turbines to overtake aerospace in use of composite materials

A new industrial sector - wind energy - is rapidly arising in the USA. According to the American Wind Energy Association, wind-generated electricity accounted for almost exactly a third of new U.S. electrical power capacity built since 2005 Wind energy's growth rate was an impressive annual average of 35%. At the same time, the domestically made content of wind turbines rose from about one third, to two thirds. Now, a report for the composite materials industry forecasts that wind energy will be a larger market for composite materials than the traditional market of aerospace.
The market for advanced composite materials is set to grow by 16% annually to $25.8 billion in 2020 - from just $7 billion in 2011.
But, according to a study by US-based Lux Research, while aerospace has traditionally been the biggest consumer of new structural materials, wind turbines will replace the industry as the leading advanced composites market, owing to the growth of offshore installations.
According to Lux's study - Carbon Fiber and Beyond: The $26 Billion World of Advanced Composites - by 2020, wind will account for $15.4 billion in advanced composites use, compared to just $6.3 billion for aerospace. Read more.
The history of the development of composite materials shows once again the early role of government in helping develop and assisting to market new technologies that eventually create entire new industries. In this case, it was the government's concern over the availability of metals for aircraft production in World War 2, then the demands of the Cold War aerospace programs, that facilitated development of large scale industrial production of composite materials.
This is the true historical pattern of USA economic development, from the Army's role in mapping out routes for settlers going west, to the Coast Geodetic Surveys, to the river navigation improvements of the mid 1800s, to the Navy's role in promoting wireless telegraphy during World War 1, to the Good Roads movement for government paving of roads to made possible widespread use of the automobile in the 1910s to 1920s, to the 1960s seed ARPANET provided for development of the internet. The conservative myth of rugged entrepreneurs is mostly a lie. It's been a partnership - often uneasy, but a partnership - between government and free enterprise, that has led the development of the USA economy.


  1. A few years back, I saw an article that claimed the 40% of the steel in German manufacturing was being used for wind turbines—and Germany has a highly-developed automobile industry. Can't lay my hands on the article this morning but this sounds right. It not just the masts—it's all the rebar that goes into making a solid base for these things.

    I have mixed feelings about the long-term durability of composite rotor blades. These things must live in extremely hostile environments and I have seen how the sun eats up fiberglass when I lived in Florida. On the other hand, I cannot think of any other way to build those blades except with composites.

    Of course, none of this detracts from your main point here which is that public-private partnerships can be very socially useful. THAT can never be said often enough.

  2. The business of producing electric power from wind flow is growing and is set to flourish as the United State, Chinese suppliers, and the world looks for better, more maintainable ways to produce electricity power.
    Market Research Reports