By Dr. Russell Chianelli, The University of Texas at El Paso, Materials Research and Technology Institute
In the December issue of “Energy Quarterly” in MRS Bulletin, an article by Phillip Ball entitled “Wind on the Lakes” describes materials challenges for Great Lakes wind energy projects. Wind on the Great Lakes of the United States and Canada has a high potential for producing energy, but so far it has been ignored. One of the advantages of the freshwater Great Lakes is the absence of salt corrosion, which complicates ocean installations. Environmental issues concerning fisheries, birds, and natural habitats are also barriers to be addressed.
Better materials are also needed. This includes better rotor blades, as current plastic materials have problems with stability in the environment and poor mechanical properties. Rare earths are used in many of the energy generating and transmitting processes; finding replacement materials for these increasingly critical elements raises increasing economic and environmental issues. Finally, energy storage of produced electricity is a major sticking point for commercialization of wind energy. These are intriguing challenges for those of us working in materials for energy research.