The latest studies on offshore wind power point out that, in the medium term, Europe could cover all its electricity demand only with it and even export, but the sea is full of life and if the platforms that support the wind turbines and, above all, their cable runs become mussel rafts, everything would be ruined.
Although it may sound like a joke to people unfamiliar with the sea or with navigation, the growth of organisms in this amalgam of mollusks and other living things that the Anglo-Saxons call “fouling” can add tons of weight to the cables that carry them to land. electricity, stretch them, weaken them, undo their material or, if it is the floating platform that supports the wind turbine, destabilize it directly.
Avoiding this risk costs many hours of maintenance, many trips by boat from land and a lot of money, in amounts that multiply all the more the further away the wind farm is, something that can be critical if it is about wind turbines moored in high seas, where the wind blows the most.
Seventeen companies and technology development centers from the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland, France, Greece, Croatia, Slovenia and Spain have chosen the facilities of the Canary Islands Oceanic Platform (Plocán), in Gran Canaria (Spain), to test in real conditions new plastic compounds and chemical substances that attack this root problem: avoiding the corrosion of the submerged material and the incrustations of organisms alive.
“The idea is invest in technology to try to make the commercial application of floating wind energy a reality in the short term “, explains Plocán’s Director of Innovation, Ayoze Castro, who coordinates this European project, called Flotant.
In collaboration with the Basque company Tecnalia, which is carrying out a parallel test in Cantabrian waters, Plocán will test the durability of 74 different compounds for 14 months in the port of Taliarte: 74 plates made with different combinations of HDPE, carbon fiber, polysol and various protective chemical additives, some of them still subject to industrial secrecy, to see if they resist fouling or not.
In two months a screening will be done to discard those that do not work or do not have any signs of responding to what is expected of them. The rest will spend a full year on the test at sea.
“We are looking for materials that can be applied to the anchoring of the floats in floating wind turbines, to the structures of the mooring lines or to the floating structures themselves that are going to support wind turbines of up to 10 megawatts,” Castro details.
“The floating wind power is going to be many kilometers from the coast. If the materials we use run quickly and need constant maintenance, the costs of maintaining these parks would be very high”
The coordinator of the Flotant project stresses that this European trial has another condition: only plastics and additives with no environmental impact on the marine environment will be used.
“The floating wind power is going to be many kilometers from the coast. If the materials we use run quickly and need constant maintenance, the costs of maintaining these parks would be very high. Today, unsustainable”, abounds Ayoze Castro.
For his part, the project director of the Flotant consortium, Alejandro Romero, specifies that this project is focused on renewable energies, but its achievements may also benefit other sectors, such as aquaculture, the construction of ships and oil rigs or operations port.
Anyone who has seen a basin of mussels in the Galician estuaries or in another mollusc farming area or has noticed how much a wood can be loaded with false barnacles, algae and other organisms if it has been floating adrift in the ocean for a long time , you can get an idea of the problem.
“The key is the weight. A dynamic power cable (like the one that connects one wind turbine to another) is floating in the sea, submerged, but floating. If it is loaded with more weight than it supports, it buckles, it can even stretch, it can overheat and its useful life decreases “, Romero sums up.