The world’s tallest wooden wind turbine starts spinning

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  • Jonah Fisher
  • BBC Environment Correspondent based in Skala, Sweden

image caption,

Engineers work on building the world’s tallest wooden turbine tower

What is made of the same wood as a Christmas tree, glued together, and produced in a Swedish factory for later assembly?

If you think of flat-packed furniture and meatballs, you’re wrong.

If you answered “wooden wind turbines,” you might be a visionary.

A Swedish startup that just built the world’s tallest wooden turbine tower has a future in using wood to generate wind power, Modvion said.

“This has huge potential,” said CEO Otto Landmann, looking up at the company’s brand new turbines a short drive from the outskirts of Gothenburg.

The tallest blade is 150 meters (492 feet) to the top, and we were the first journalists invited to tour inside. The 2-megawatt generator at the top has just started supplying power to the Swedish power grid, providing power to around 400 homes.

Lundmann and Modovion’s dream is to lift the forest and the wind even higher.

limits of steel

Several very similar turbines are spinning on the horizon near the Modvion project.

As with almost all turbine towers around the world, steel rather than wood is the key material. Strong and durable steel has made it possible to build huge turbines and wind farms on land and at sea.

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The blades and generator of this 150 meter wind turbine in Skala, Sweden are made from conventional materials

However, steel is not without its limitations, especially for onshore projects.

As the demand for taller turbines, which produce stronger winds with larger generators, increased, the diameter of the cylindrical towers supporting them also needed to increase.

In the world of road tunnels, bridges, and roundabouts, many in the wind industry have found it a real headache to transport these huge pieces of metal to the turbine installation site, effectively reducing the cost of new steel turbines. It states that the height is restricted.

Wooden turbine or sauna?

From the outside, there are few obvious differences between Modvion’s wooden turbines and their steel turbines.

Both have a thick white coating to protect them from the elements, and the blades are made primarily of fiberglass and are attached to a generator that generates electricity as they spin.

Only when you step inside the tower do you really notice the difference. The walls are finished with curved raw wood, reminiscent of a sauna.

image source, Kevin Church/BBC

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Modovion’s Otto Landmann shows Jonah the inside of a wooden turbine

The 105-meter (345-foot) tall tower’s strength comes from the 144 layers of laminate veneer lumber (LVL) that make up its thick walls.

By varying the grain of each layer of 3mm thick spruce, Modovion says they were able to control the strength and flexibility of the walls. “This is our secret recipe,” says company co-founder David Olivegren, a former architect and shipbuilder, with a smile.

At a factory on the edge of Gothenburg, thin layers of wood are glued and compressed to create curved sections. These pieces are taken on site, glued together into a cylindrical shape, and stacked on top of each other to create a tower.

“Wood and adhesives are a perfect combination. We’ve known that for hundreds of years,” says Olivegren. “And using wood makes it lighter, so [than steel] You can build taller turbines with less material. ”

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Modvion’s David Olivegren inspects the modular section of a wooden turbine tower in the factory.

Lundmann and Olivegren said the biggest selling point of their turbine is that by using wood and glue, the towers can be built in smaller, more portable modules.

This, they say, makes it much easier to build very tall towers and transport their pieces to difficult places.

But Dr. Maximilian Schnipperling, head of sustainability at Siemens Gamesa, one of the world’s largest turbine manufacturers, says more parts mean more trucks and more people. will likely be required and will likely take more time to complete the installation. He believes the modular system is an “advantage” and that wooden towers can “complement well” to steel towers.

Siemens Gamesa’s efforts are focused on reducing the carbon footprint of the steel it uses, he said.

Inside the Modvion tower, it shows how the wooden modules are stacked, secured with steel mounting hardware, and glued in place.

“The industry wants to build 300 meter turbines.” [blade] Top height refers to towers with a height of 200m or more. Modularity allows us to do that,” says Landman.

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The wooden parts of the turbine tower are glued on site

Of course, the steel could be made modular and the cylinder cut into smaller pieces, but this would require extra effort to bolt each piece together, increasing both cost and maintenance.

One of Modvion’s investors is renewable energy giant Vestas. The company has installed more wind power facilities around the world than anywhere else.

Jan Hagen, the company’s chief technology officer for northern and central Europe, believes there is “tremendous potential” in the market for tall turbines, and that wood turbines could play a role. “It’s especially suitable,” he said.

“What we find interesting about this is that it combines economically viable and sustainable solutions that address transportation bottlenecks,” Hagen says.

Although wind power is cheaper and cleaner than nearly all other methods of generating electricity, manufacturing steel requires very high temperature furnaces and almost always involves the combustion of fossil fuels. That means CO2 emissions, which are the main driver of climate change.

Modovion says using wood instead of steel completely eliminates wind turbines’ carbon footprint and makes them carbon negative.

That’s because trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere when they’re alive, and when they’re cut down, that carbon is stored inside the tree. No carbon is released unless the wood rots or burns.

Approximately 200 trees went into Modovion’s turbine tower. The trees are the same spruce species used for Christmas trees, and the company says they are grown sustainably and as they are harvested, more will be planted.

SSE Renewables, one of the UK’s largest wind energy companies, told the BBC it was aware of Modvion’s work and was considering wooden towers as an “alternative technology” to replace steel. However, many of SSE’s projects are located offshore and can be accessed using large ships, so the benefits of modular transport are less pronounced.

Modvion hopes to build another taller turbine soon, and if all goes well, it plans to open a facility in 2027 that will produce 100 wooden modular turbines a year.

“The industry is currently installing 20,000 turbines a year,” Landman says. “Our ambition is that in 10 years, 10% of our turbines (about 2,000) will be made of wood.”

Additional reporting by Mark Poynting and Kevin Church

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