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Dr. Sabrina Malpede, Managing Director and Co-Founder of ACT Blade

JEC Composites Magazine speaks to Dr. Sabrina Malpede, Managing Director and Co-Founder of ACT Blade to evaluate how eco-friendly is wind power and if it can become the key of the global renewable energy supply.

Dr. Sabrina Malpede, Managing Director and Co-Founder of ACT Blade
READING TIME

8 minutes, 40 secondes

Founded back in 2004 by Dr. Sabrina Malpede, SMAR Azure Ltd, is a leader in tailored computerized design and analytical software for the marine industry. Thanks to the knowledge and expertise gained in sailing, in 2015, Dr Malpede co-founded another company called ACT Blade, which developed a new wind turbine blade made of an internal composite structure and fully covered in textile. ACT Blade’s radical and innovative design and manufacturing flexibility exploits the aero-elastic science and expertise acquired when designing the fastest racing yacht in the world: the America’s Cup boat.

By developing a new, efficient, greener technology, wind energy is contributing to the transition towards a sustainable, secure and clean energy system: more than 70 countries mentioned wind energy as a climate change mitigation tool in their commitments prior to the Paris Agreement.

In the UK and many other EU countries (e.g. Germany and Denmark), onshore wind energy is now subsidy free. Offshore wind is still more expensive, but costs are falling rapidly.

Managing and responding to various cost and performance drivers is key to becoming price competitive against alternative energy sources. Over the past 40 years, new technological solutions have led to an increase in energy production, cost effectiveness and use, with primary areas of innovation being dimensioning, aerodynamics, coatings, materials, wind modeling, and the manufacturing process. 

Cost reductions have been achieved through the development of longer blades that produce more energy, but wind blades are becoming heavy and expensive to produce, install and maintain.
The main challenges for existing technology are that as blades get larger, heavier, difficult to transport.
In summary, the blade is now a major area of focus to reduce the cost of energy of wind power. 

These challenges support the development of alternative blade systems.

The ACT Blade Journey

The ACT Blade is a viable solution, with the potential to be the lightest and most controllable wind turbine blade ever developed.  It provides two distinctive levels of innovation: 1 a novel construction approach, with an internal composite structure covered by tensioned engineered textile, and 2 a control system to reduce blade loads and optimise performance according to wind conditions. Both innovations are covered under patent protection.

The ACT Blade represents a step forward for the wind energy to harness wind power. Its longer shape allows it to harvest more wind than has previously been viable, whilst a unique modular structure ensures adaptability whatever the weather conditions.

JEC Composites Magazine: Can you tell us more about your role in the ACT creation and growth?
Dr. Sabrina Malpede, ACT Blade: “In 2014, I was working in the yachting industry, when, with our technical director and co-founder, we came up with the idea of developing a wind turbine blade using highly specialised textile and light composite structure, as used in modern sails.  We responded to an innovation challenge proposed by the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult (ORE Catapult), the UK’s leading technology innovation and research centre for the offshore renewable energy. ACT Blade was set up in 2015 after a feasibility study carried out with the ORE Catapult.”

JEC Composites Magazine: From America’s Cup sails designed using your software to wind turbines blades made by a revolutionary new concept. You affirmed: “I realised that the offshore wind industry was engaged in the same race as we were in the yacht-racing world – we need to reduce loads and capture more wind power without compromising on durability” Did you succeed?
Dr. Sabrina Malpede: “Yes, our innovative blade, the ACT blade, exploits similar aeroelastic science and expertise previously created and employed by our team in SMAR Azure, world-leading yachting design specialists, in the sail design for racing yachts competing in the America’s Cup.

An ACT blade is made of an internal composite slim composite structure and it is fully covered by a tensioned textile.

Because of the innovative design and the use of highly engineered textile, our blade is lighter than conventional blade, enabling the development of longer blade to harvest more wind energy. In other words, at similar weight, an ACT blade can be up to 10% longer than a typical blade.”

Installation of ACT27 on the V27 testing turbine
Installation of ACT27 on the V27 testing turbine

JEC Composites Magazine: Wind energy is seen as a green way to produce energy although there are still some major challenges, such the disposal of wind blades, how much is your blade going to give an answer to this specific problem?
Dr. Sabrina Malpede: “Yes, recycling wind turbine blades represent a specific challenge for the industry.  Modern conventional wind turbine blades are made entirely of composite material and complex manufacturing processes. 

The European Technology & Innovation Platform on Wind Energy (ETIPWind) foresees 15,000 wind turbine blades will be decommissioned in the next five years, as they reach the end of life. This means that the industry will need to deal with large volumes of composite materials, from collection to waste. In addition, the constantly increasing of wind turbine size requires increasingly longer blades. And increasing the size of conventional blades leads to an exponential increase of material content. Therefore, the problem will increase exponentially. In fact, policy makers but also end users are now requiring OEMs to have specific solutions. For new blades, the use of novel materials, which are easier to recycle, improved monitoring to extend the life expectancy and introduction of circular design making blades more sustainable are top priorities for the wind industry.

An ACT blade is more sustainable by design: not only we use the end-of-life approach in our design, but also being component basis, an ACT blade is easier to dismantle and divide the material to various recycling processes. For the same length, an ACT Blade is on average 24% lighter than conventional blade, so our material content is lower, which means less material to recycle for unit of power, but also less (~20%) material waste in production. In addition, the ACT blade uses a composite spar, which is 40% to 45% of the blade chord, meaning that our manufacturing tools are smaller, not only requiring less material to manufacturing them, but also lower factory footprint and energy. The smaller and compact composite structure reduces the consumables waste from production.

Finally, the use of textile means that an ACT blade does not require painting, which means not only a lower manufacturing footprint but also less energy used in production. And, as already done in the sailing industry, the ACT textile can be easily recovered and reused once the blades have been disassembled at the end of their life.”

One of the company’s 13-metre prototype blades underwent three weeks of testing to assess its structural integrity and durabili
One of the company’s 13-metre prototype blades underwent three weeks of testing to assess its structural integrity and durability

JEC Composites Magazine: When and where did you install the first blades? Which problems did you experience at first?
Dr. Sabrina Malpede: “We reached a huge milestone last July (Jul 2021). Three 13-metre ACT 27 blades were mounted on a fully instrumented testing V27 (225KW) wind turbine at the Energy Technology Centre on Myres Hill, Glasgow. The installation went smoothly, and the testing campaign – initially planned for 5 weeks- will be terminated in a couple of weeks (31.Jan.2022), after six months, to enable us to collect and analyse the power and load data, as well as to examine the blades. The test has been running smoothly even in the harsh Scottish weather. To note, in March 2021, one other ACT27 blade successful completed all structural tests: static, fatigue and post-static tests at the accredited laboratory of the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult blade test facility in Blyth, to validate the blade structural integrity and durability.”

JEC Composites Magazine: Technological developments: what are the news regarding materials and processes? Can you give us some info concerning the composites materials utilized?
Dr. Sabrina Malpede: “The ACT textile is the very new material introduced in the wind industry. The ACT textile has been specifically developed for resisting the harsh and variable environmental conditions the wind turbine blade is expected to experience during its entire life. The ACT textile is a technical membrane developed in collaboration with Concordia Textiles, and other key members of their supply chain.

In describing the ACT textile, we can say that it is a laminate composed by two primary elements: a substrate which provides the mechanical properties required, and a coating that provides the environmental protection required.

The substrate is made of polyester yarns to ensure the ACT textile holds the wind turbine blade shape and tension during its operational life. The coating, a thermo plastic film provides the pristine aerodynamic surface required for optimal performance. The coating has been specifically formulated to resist the environmental agents and can be provided in any colour. In particular, the ACT textile coating is specialised to resist to rain erosion too, which is one of the reasons for blade fast degradation. Because the ACT textile covers the entire blade surface, its finishing is very smooth for high aerodynamic performance.

The layered-nature of the ACT textile enables to be customised to different to different environments, allowing maximum flexibility. Finally, at end of life, it can be either recycled or re-used to build textile garments, like bags, garden furniture etc.

A final and important note to say is that over the last five years of development, in collaboration with certification agencies, we have selected the tests and the standards to qualify our ACT textile for the use on wind turbine blade and ensuring that ACT blades will achieve component certificates, according to International Standards.”

Blade Rendering 2
Blade Rendering

JEC Composites Magazine: Recently, you signed a partnership with Enel Green Power to develop your innovative wind turbine, capable of generating more energy, reducing costs and making it easier to recycle its component materials. It’s an interesting opportunity to collaborate with Enel Green Power, how do you think to exploit this partnership?
Dr. Sabrina Malpede: “The partnership with Enel Green Power is a great opportunity for ACT Blade. On the one hand, we have direct end-user view on our developments and on the commercialization strategy. On the other hand, as we are developing our first ACT blade- product, we benefit of additional technical support from various Enel Green Power technical teams, ensuring we keep our focus not only on the product development, but also on all other important user questions: from maintenance to the logistic of the delivery and installation of the blade product.”

JEC Composites Magazine: Clean energy, circular economy, ACT has been selected as one of the best startup in the G20 Innovation League, the event organized by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs under Italy’s Presidency of the G20 with the aim of giving visibility to new ideas and entrepreneurial projects for a more sustainable future. ACT patented, and already put into operation the new generation wind turbines that are 32% lighter and 10% longer than conventional ones, and therefore able to ensure an increase in energy production by 9 % and the reduction of failures. Looking towards the future, which are your projects, are you interested in new sectors over wind energy?
Dr. Sabrina Malpede: “We were absolutely delighted to have been awarded as one of the best start-up at the G20 Innovation league award in the field of clean technology, as our first blades, the ACT27 were generating energy on the testing turbine in Meyers Hill, Glasgow. Now, our focus is to complete the development of our first commercial prototype, achieving component certification and most importantly test them on a commercial turbine, to give the boost to our market entry.”

JEC Composites Magazine: What are your plans in this specific industrial area? Sustainability is a big topic: what do you think of the use of natural fibers? Generally speaking, what are your considerations on sustainability and recycling?
Dr. Sabrina Malpede: “The ACT Blade represents a technological step forward in harnessing wind power, offering the lightest, most modular and most controllable wind turbine blade in the market. Circular design and end of life approach are two important pillars of our developments, and our research and development team will continue to explore opportunities provided by new materials, glues, resin. The ACT blades are the wind turbine blade for a Net-Zero future.”

More information www.actblade.com