Balsa Wood Subsitute Developed for WInd Turbine Blades

CAMBRIDGE, MA – An essential lumber product tucked inside the blades of sleek massive wind turbines is experiencing spot shortages of supply: Balsa wood.

The lightweight wood is used to build  sandwich panel construction that combines light weight and strength. Turbine blades contain arrays of balsa wood strips, much of it sourced from Ecuador, which supplies 95 percent of the world’s demand.

For centuries, the fast-growing balsa tree has been prized for its light weight and stiffness relative to density. But balsa wood is expensive. Natural variations in the wood grain can be an impediment in increasingly precise performance requirements of turbine blades s.

Turbine makers are also producing ever-larger blades—the longest now measure more than 200 feet long, nearly the wingspan of an Airbus A380 jetliner. And they must be engineered to operate virtually maintenance-free for decades. So manufacturers are searching for new sandwich construction material options.

The Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have developed cellular composite materials that, like wood, are both light weight and stiff. The researchers say the new materials mimic and improve on balsa, and even on the best commercial 3D-printed polymers and polymer composites available.  

“By moving into new classes of materials like epoxies, we open up new avenues for using 3D printing to construct lightweight architectures,” says principal investigator Jennifer A. Lewis, the Hansjörg Wyss Professor of Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard SEAS.

“Balsa wood has a cellular architecture that minimizes its weight since most of the space is empty and only the cell walls carry the load. It therefore has a high specific stiffness and strength,” say Lewis. “We’ve borrowed this design concept and mimicked it in an engineered composite.”

Of particular significance is the way that the fibers can be aligned, through control of the fiber aspect ratio—the length relative to the diameter—and the nozzle diameter.

“This marks an important step forward in designing engineering materials that mimic wood, long known for its remarkable mechanical properties for its weight,” said Lorna Gibson, a professor of materials science and mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who was not involved in this research.

Bill Esler, Woodworking Network, WMS

Bill Esler

Bill Esler, Editorial Director, Woodworking Network Bill is responsible for overall content at WoodworkingNetwork.com Woodworking Network magazine, and related newsletters. Bill also manages event programs for Woodworking Network Live conferences at the Woodworking Machinery & Supplies Expo in Toronto and Cabinets & Closets Expo. He developing audience engagement programs using custom digital printing, live lead-generating events, custom websites, and custom digital and print content. Read Bill Esler’s woodworking blogs. He can be reached at besler@woodworkingnetwork.com or follow him on Google+.

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We ship our products from China.

USA : 7 to 10 business days (+tracking number) by USPS First Class Mail

UK + EUROPE : 4 to 10 business days (+tracking capability) by Royal Mail

These are indicative only. Some delay may occur during high peak season, local customs clearance, local post failures which we cannot be held responsible for. If you have any time constraint, please contact us prior to placing order.

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This product currently only ships within the United States of America

Operating Manual will be included
1x 1KG Spool (approximately 2.20 lbs) either ABS or PLA (will vary)
Filament Diameter: 1.75 mm
Extruder: Dual MK-8
Build Volume: 300 cubic inch
Build Envelope: 8.90″ x 5.70″ x 5.9″ (225 mm x 145 mm x 150 mm)
Print Speed: 40-100 mm/s
Print Precision: 0.1-0.2 mm
Print Resolution: 100 microns (0.1 mm) to 500 microns (0.5 mm)
Motherboard: MightyBoard
Heated Build Platform: Yes
Nozzle Diameter: 0.4 mm
Flow Velocity: ~22 cc/hour
Positioning Precision: Z-Axis 0.0025 mm
Postitioning Precision: XY Plan 0.011 mm
Compatible with: SD Card or USB (Included; Qty. 1)
Compatible File Format: .stl, .x3g
Compatible OS: Mac OS X, Linux, and Windows 8.0 or Later
Recommended Slicing Software: Replicator G, other slicing software may be used
Actual Product Dimension: 12.60″ x 16.90″ x 20.70″ (320 mm x 467 mm x 381 mm)

Product Features

  • Operating Manual will be included
  • Build Volume: 300 cubic inch
  • Print Resolution: 100 microns (0.1 mm) to 500 microns (0.5 mm)
  • Compatible File Format: .stl, .x3g
  • Filament Diameter: 1.75 mm

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