(532b) Life Cycle Energy Analysis and Midpoint Assessment of Multimegawatt Wind Turbines with Polymer Nanocomposite Blade Material | AIChE

(532b) Life Cycle Energy Analysis and Midpoint Assessment of Multimegawatt Wind Turbines with Polymer Nanocomposite Blade Material


Merugula, L. A. - Presenter, The Ohio State University

Life cycle analysis of
vapor-grown carbon nanofiber (VGCNF or CNF) manufacturing shows production is
highly energy-intensive with a cumulative energy demand that is influenced by
feedstock selection and dominated by processing energy needed to maintain
reactor temperature for the catalytic pyrolysis of the hydrocarbon feed. 
However, at relatively low mass percentages, CNFs can reinforce polymer
composites yielding significant improvements in properties such as mode-1
delamination resistance, vibrational damping, tensile strength, fatigue
resistance and Young's modulus.  A new method termed ?pre-binding? has been
developed to reinforce polymer composites with CNFs at the interface of long
fibers and resin.  This method improves the manufacturability of large pieces
with CNF-reinforced polymer nanocomposites (PNCs) by overcoming processing
issues inherent to previous methods of PNC fabrication.  Materials scientists
are considering use of this emerging material for wind turbine blade production
to meet the demand for larger, more resilient utility-scale wind power plants.

Wind energy converters (WECs)
on-line today are a relatively new technology with installations of multimegawatt
ratings having been introduced to the modern market only in the last 15-20
years.  The largest 3-blade horizontal axis wind turbine (HAWT) rotor size in
operation is 126 meters in diameter with generator ratings from 5 to 7 MW while
the growing market is dominated by new installations from 1 to 3 MW.  Apparent
limits of fiberglass technology have been reached as rotor blades beyond about
40 meters generally require some inclusion of carbon fiber to address stiffness
and edgewise fatigue, which become critical at this length.  The less dense
carbon fiber also leads to a positive deviation in trends of weight to
increasing size.  Recent press releases communicate progress in R&D for
meeting industrial-governmental collaborative goals for 20 MW plants possibly
by 2020 using available technologies with rotors expected to have diameters
near 200 meters.

In an even shorter time
span, numerous nanotechnology-enabled products have been introduced to the
consumer market with over 1,300 manufacturer-identified
products populating The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies consumer product
inventory today.  These products include automobile body parts with carbon nanotubes
(CNTs) for enabling online electrostatic painting and a personal watercraft
using nanomaterials for reinforcement of the polymer composite for a
?lightweight, stronger material.?

While life cycle energy
consumption of CNF-reinforced PNCs for use in automobile body panels has been
evaluated, similar trends were not expected for life cycle energy in wind
turbines due to differences in operational phase energy consumption.  Also,
previous assessments of PNCs have not considered the method of pre-binding,
which uses acetone as a vessel for dispersion and distribution of the CNFs onto
glass or carbon fiber matting. 

Preliminary studies that
assumed replacement of polymer composite blade materials on a 2 MW and 5 MW
plant with CNF pre-bound PNCs indicated a range of parameterization values
under which the energy return on investment (EROI) would not decrease.  These
studies have been updated in a process-based life cycle assessment (LCA) to
include more relevant process information and have been extended to a midpoint
analysis using the CML and Traci methods to determine areas of focus for
optimization.  An energy analysis was extended to a 5 MW WEC using cumulative
energy demand and power generation figures from published LCA literature.

Impacts are reported per
kilowatt-hour generation of electricity by the wind power plant and compared to
the base case, which is a 2 MW WEC in Middelgrund that is inventoried in the proprietary
Ecoinvent database.  In every feasible scenario, the EROI of wind power plants with
the PNC blade material remained competitive to thermoelectric power generation,
and life cycle water consumption remained favorable.  Where CNF production was
assumed to be based on benzene feedstock, energy analysis results were much
more favorable than methane.  Midpoint analysis, however, was assessed with methane
as the preferred hydrocarbon source for pyrolysis in nanofiber manufacture.  Similar
trends emerged under extension to the 5 MW system energy analysis.

Assuming a mass
contribution of CNFs that ranges from 1 to 5 % by weight of each blade, the
overall mass of the nanomaterials is approximately 0.01-0.06% of the overall
mass of the WEC system, yet there is direct correlation between the mass
fraction of the nanomaterials to nontrivial impacts per kWh compared to the
base case.  Where studies have shown manufacturing of virgin nanomaterials to
be solvent-intensive, this study finds that the use phase of the nanomaterial,
where CNFs are integrated into a product system, is highly solvent-intensive as
well.  Current laboratory scale ratios of solvent spent to nanofibers dispersed
are on the order of 5x102 g solvent per g CNF.  Maturation of this
material development must include a reduction of solvent use by optimization of
the dispersion process and evaluation of solvent recovery systems for reuse
that considers effects of nanomaterials in the operation.  Photochemical
oxidation is a concern in terms of acetone emissions, the degree to which will
be dependent on recovery, reuse, and emissions controls.  Also, the degree of
solvent fresh feed required has an impact on the overall system's global
warming potential and eutrophication potential due to the manufacturing phase
of the acetone.

Evaluating impacts of emerging
technologies is complicated by the fast-pace of development and deployment,
significant gaps in data and uncertainties about the future.  Compilation of
life cycle data is unwieldy at best due to complex supply chains and regional
variations in categories as energy supply and transportation.  This is further
complicated by incomplete understanding of ecosystem service impacts, though
work is underway to quantify and compile ecosystem services for inclusion in LCA.
 System performance improvements will not occur with PNC integration in
isolation of other technological changes within WEC design and operation, yet analyses
as this are meant to give insight to areas of concern by identifying impacts
and order of magnitude effects associated with this emerging material for the
assumed use.