Construction completes on wind turbine blade test facility

Paul Boughton

A new facility that will enable the UK to lead the World in the testing of offshore wind turbine blades has been completed by national contractor Shepherd Construction.

The contractor this week handed over the 5,700m² steel frame structure to the National Renewable Energy Centre (Narec) in Blyth, Northumberland. The project is the second of three structures to be completed at Blyth as part of a £80 million + investment by Narec in world-class facilities for the accelerated testing of offshore renewable energy technologies.

The new Blade Test Facility will be the largest in the world and has been designed to test the longer blades being developed for larger offshore turbines. It will add significantly to Narec’s existing capability for testing blades up to 50 metres in length.

Constructing the building, which is 123 metres in length (slightly shorter than Gateshead’s Millennium Bridge at 126 metres), has itself been a complex engineering feat.  The project, however, has also involved building the test hub that will support the blades during testing.

Shepherd Construction has worked extremely closely with Narec and the project team to find an engineered solution that would withstand the forces applied during testing and the vibrations that will be created.

The result is a test hub comprising a 15-metre high concrete superstructure with two huge rings.  The top ring of 8m diameter is designed to accommodate the testing of blades up to 100m. The smaller bottom ring will accommodate blades of smaller root diameter.  The hub arm includes substantial foundations.

To achieve the exact position of the rings within the concrete structure 216 post-tensioned bars have been cast in to extremely tight tolerances of ±3mm.  Special winches fixed to 132 circular steel rings in the floor have also been manufactured and will be used to flex the blades during testing.

Andrew Constantine, commercial director for Shepherd Construction commented: “As there are currently no other facilities of this scale in operation, the project team has had to come up with a unique solution necessitating precisely calculated tolerances that will enable the structure to withstand the rigours of testing. This makes it all the more worthwhile to see the blade test facility handed over and on its way to helping the UK further advance the offshore renewable energy.”

The new facility will provide an independent and confidential environment to accelerate the development of new blade designs before they are taken offshore.  

Andrew Mill, CEO of Narec, said: “This is a unique facility which can accommodate the largest blades being developed for the offshore wind industry.  Shepherd Construction has worked with contractors and our own blade specialists to deliver a bespoke solution.  Narec will now commission the new facility ready for commercial operations at the start of next year.”

Turner & Townsend provided both project management and cost management services, and were employed by the design team.

Jonathan Lunn, Associate Director at Turner & Townsend, added: “We are extremely pleased to have successfully managed the completion of the blade test facility. The unique nature and physical magnitude of the facility has required an extensive mix of both precision engineering and traditional construction expertise.”

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