The transition to a clean energy system to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 is well underway. There will be many benefits to society, including halting the worst of climate change, cleaner air, and ultimately lower energy prices.
That being said, the shift to a clean energy system will also bring challenges. One such challenge will be increased raw materials required to build renewable energy technologies. An energy system powered by renewable energy technology requires significantly more raw materials to operate than one powered by fossil fuels.
Wind turbines require many raw materials to build, including steel, iron, fibreglass, polymers, aluminium, copper, cobalt, zinc and rare earth elements (REEs). The Global installed capacity of wind power has almost tripled over the last decade. With the sector expected to expand quickly, these materials will become increasingly important.
Soaring Raw Material Prices
Unfortunately, raw materials vital in building wind turbines are soaring in price. For example, steel cost has risen by 180% compared to pre-pandemic levels, while global iron and copper prices rose by around 50% in 2021.
There are various reasons for these price increases.
- First, the raw materials used to build wind turbines are in short supply. As the transition to net-zero gathers pace, demand for materials needed for renewable energy sources is increasing, driving up prices.
- Next, the high price of oil has caused raw materials to increase. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has caused prices to spike. When oil prices rise, the cost of raw materials inevitably increases. The war in Ukraine has also directly caused the price of raw materials to increase by disrupting supply chains. Russia and Ukraine are significant producers of steel, which are vital in producing wind turbines.
- Finally, a global energy infrastructure gap contributes to rising raw material costs. Around the world, governments have pumped billions into energy infrastructure, which has increased the demand for raw materials to build the infrastructure. Unfortunately, the raw material market cannot currently scale to meet the infrastructure demand since it takes up to a decade to open a new material mine. Therefore, the price of presently available raw materials is rising.
Do More with What We Have
To combat rising raw material costs, the offshore wind industry must become more efficient and do more with what it has.
The industry could look at the history of the internal combustion engine for inspiration, which has become more dramatically more efficient over time. In 1975, the average car’s fuel efficiency was 13.2 miles per gallon, which has risen to 25 miles per gallon today with better designs.
Currently, attempts are being made to follow the same path as the internal combustion engine in the offshore wind industry by optimising design processes. An excellent example is Norwegian developer Wind Catching System’s innovative offshore wind technology, which uses significantly less raw materials than a conventional wind turbine.
However, the offshore wind industry is being held back by an inability to go into enough detail when modelling wind turbines to create better designs. Current modelling is done by dated technology that cannot model large assets in detail, making it very difficult to improve design and efficiency.
Therefore, to mitigate rising raw material costs and create leaner designs, the industry must embrace innovative technology to allow it to model in greater detail.
Here is where Akselos can help. Unlike dated modelling software, our software can model wind turbine components quickly and in full detail, allowing for optimal design. For instance, in a recent wind turbine design project with Lamprell, we used our software to build a highly detailed model of an offshore wind foundation, the part of the structure that supports the turbine. The project showed that our predictive digital twin technology could reduce the steel weight and associated costs of offshore wind jacket foundations by up to 30%.
Applying this reduction to a 1GW floating wind farm would save 60,000 metric tons of steel. Such savings would lead to a CO2 reduction of 11,000 tons, equivalent to greenhouse gas emissions from 21,697 gasoline-powered passenger vehicles driven for one year.
Lamprell’s wind turbine jacket foundations. Akselos’ technology can reduce steel weight by 30%.
While Aksleos has successfully analysed wind turbine jacket foundations, more turbine components could be analysed using our software, including the tower, the rotor and the hub. Doing so would create leaner wind turbine designs, which would reduce turbine fatigue life – the time components can last before failure or replacement.
Analysing all components to create leaner designs would reduce the cost of wind turbines, leading to increased adoption and helping drive the transition to net-zero. Also, the fewer raw materials used, the fewer emissions involved. Finally, there are benefits in logistics, as if turbines are lighter, more can be transported on the same vessel, thus reducing emissions.
A Bright Future
Overall, the offshore wind industry is making positive strides to do more with the raw materials it already has and mitigate rising raw material costs. The sector has a critical role in the transition to net-zero emissions by 2050. By embracing digital technology to create leaner, more efficient designs, the industry can drastically reduce its raw material use and drive positive change. Doing so will avoid the worst of climate change and create a bright future for generations.