Scientists at GE Global Research, Virginia Tech, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory have started working on a new blade design using fabric wrapped around a skeleton of metal ribs resembling a fishbone, according to a posting at GE Reports. GE estimates that the new design could revolutionize the way wind blades are designed, made, and installed and cut blade costs by 25 to 40 percent. “We are weaving an advanced wind blade that could be our clean energy future,” says Wendy Lin, a GE engineer and leader of the three-year project, which the government's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E) is backing with $5.6 million. “The fabric we are developing will be tough, flexible, and easier to assemble and maintain than fiberglass.”
The use of fabrics as a tool to lower weight is not a new idea. Aircraft manufacturers used them to cover the wings of fighter planes in World War I. GE already makes rugged fabrics for wind protection and architectural design.