Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions

New Fuels: The Sun and More: Toward super-size wind turbines: Bigger wind turbines do make greener electricity

September 24, 2012

Picture of turbines

Credit: iStock.


In a study that could solidify the trend
toward construction of gigantic windmills,
scientists have concluded that the larger
the wind turbine, the greener the electricity
it produces. Their report appears in ACS’
journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Today’s study could solidify the trend toward construction of gigantic windmills. In a report in ACS’ journal Environmental Science & Technology, scientists have concluded that the larger the wind turbine, the greener the electricity it produces.

Here’s lead author Marloes Caduff, a graduate student at ETH Zurich:

“Wind power is an increasingly popular source of electricity. It provides almost 2 percent of global electricity worldwide, a figure expected to approach 10 percent by 2020. The size of the turbines also is increasing. One study shows that the average size of commercial turbines has grown 10-fold in the last 30 years, from diameters of 50 feet in 1980 to nearly 500 feet today. There might someday be super-giant turbines approaching 1,000 feet in diameter. However, our study investigated land-based wind turbines up to 300 feet in diameter.”

Caduff, Stefanie Hellweg, Ph.D., who is her advisor, and colleagues wanted to determine whether building larger turbines makes wind energy more or less environmentally friendly. Here’s Hellweg:

Picture of Marloes Caduff, graduate student
Marloes Caduff,
ETH Zurich, Switzerland

“Bigger turbines tend to produce greener electricity — for two main reasons. First, advanced materials and designs permit the efficient construction of large turbine blades that harness more wind without proportional increases in their mass or the masses of the tower and the nacelle that houses the generator. Second, with increasing cumulative production manufacturers gain knowledge to build big wind turbines with great efficiency. That means more clean power without large increases in the amount of material needed for construction or fuel needed for transportation.”

Smart Chemists/Innovative Thinking

Smart chemists. Innovative thinking. That’s the key to solving global challenges of the 21st Century. Please check out more of our full-length podcasts on wide-ranging issues facing chemistry and science, such as promoting public health, developing new fuels and confronting climate change, at Today’s podcast was written by Sam Lemonick. I’m Adam Dylewski at the American Chemical Society in Washington.

Picture of Stefanie Hellweg, Ph.D. scientist
Stefanie Hellweg, Ph.D.
ETH Zurich, Switzerland