Winds of change: Hull factory to produce world’s largest single-cast blades

The 75-metre Siemens Blade was a huge hit for last year's City of Culture. They may not have been able to squeeze in the new 81.5m blades being built at the Hull factory.
The 75-metre Siemens Blade was a huge hit for last year's City of Culture. They may not have been able to squeeze in the new 81.5m blades being built at the Hull factory.
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The world’s largest single-cast turbine blades are to be built at a Hull factory for one of the massive offshore wind farms going up in the North Sea.

Hundreds of 81.5-metre blades will be manufactured at the city’s Siemens Gamesa factory for their next generation 8MW (megawatt) turbines, which will be used for the Hornsea 2 wind farm, 55 miles off the Yorkshire coast. Currently their 75-metre single cast blades are the largest in the world.

“Several million pounds” is to be spent modifying the factory on Alexandra Dock, which will start producing the longer blades in 2020.

The factory only opened two years ago and the latest developments show the dizzying speed at which the offshore wind industry is evolving.

Every manufacturer is under pressure to produce power cheaper and “bigger is better” has become the mantra.

Rival US firm, GE Renewable Energy, is investing more than £280m in the 12MW Haliade-X, which will have an even bigger 220-metre rotor diameter and 107-metre blade length.

Bigger turbines harvest more energy, more steadily, from the wind - and there are no restrictions on space when building offshore.

Speaking at the factory in Hull, Siemens Gamesa’s Head of Operational Excellence Andy Sykes said of the new 81-5-metre blade - which will be longer than the wingspan of an A380 Airbus and will weigh close to 30 tonnes : “It will be the largest single cast piece in the world - you will struggle to find anything cast bigger than that as a single piece.”

The University of Hull’s Logistics Institute is using computer modelling to help reorder the factory in preparation for the bigger blades and new equipment, including a fibreglass cutting machine and oven.

A concrete area south of the factory has already been extended to accommodate the longer blades, made out of the same materials for building model planes, fibreglass and balsa wood, and reinforced with epoxy resin.

“The fundamental structure of the factory will remain as it is, but we will use the space more creatively to make use of the footprint we have here,” added Mr Sykes.

The prototype will be built at the Siemens factory in Aalborg, Denmark.

Speaking earlier this year Siemens Gamesa said the deal for Hornsea 2, which is due to be operational in 2022, and will cover an area six times larger than Hull, marks its largest ever single order.

The new 8MW turbine “boosts annual output by 20 per cent and offers higher returns,” said offshore chief executive Andreas Nauen.

The first blade rolled off the Hull factory’s production line in November 2016 and is now generating power from the Race Bank farm off north Norfolk.

Standing outside yesterday were dozens more blades waiting shipment to the Beatrice wind farm in the Moray Firth, 22km from the Scottish coast.