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As the climate crisis accelerates and the world intensifies its search for reliable renewable energy, there’s growing interest in the energy potential of the oceans. Covering more than 70% of our planet, the waves and tides contain huge amounts of untapped power with the reliability to balance out the seasonal variations and unpredictability of wind and solar. To date, however, progress to capture this vast energy resource has been slow, hampered by technological challenges and high costs, with only a few wave and tidal projects edging out of pilot testing and into commercial production.

Optimising design

This may be about to change as this fledgling industry begins to gain traction and starts to bend the cost curve. This month the world’s first rapid testing facility for tidal turbine blades opened in Fife, Scotland in a bid to help bring down costs and accelerate marine energy technology development. FastBlade, a £4.6 million facility developed by the University of Edinburgh and engineering group Babcock International, will stress test blades made from composite materials.

The facility’s 75-tonne reaction frame is capable of exerting powerful forces on turbine blades more than 50 feet long to fatigue test the structures that, once in operation, will have to withstand harsh ocean conditions for 20 years. FastBlade uses a system of powerful hydraulic cylinders to replicate the complex forces to which tidal turbines are exposed to at sea, with the facility able to simulate two decades of stress in less than three months. By providing developers with better data on how tidal turbine blades deteriorate over time, the research team hopes to help optimise the design of more durable, efficient structures.

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