Protective coatings companies, particularly those with experience supplying coatings for marine vessels and structures, are positioning themselves to exploit a potentially massive new market in northern Europe.
It will be for coatings for offshore wind turbines and to a lesser extent tidal and wave power installations in which investment is being driven by the European Union’s target of 20 percent renewable energy by 2020.
This year as much as 1,000 mega watts (MW) of offshore wind power is expected to be installed, most of it in the North Sea and adjacent marine areas. This compares with an installation of 577 MW in 2009, according to the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA). By mid-2010 there were nearly 1,000 offshore wind turbines operating in 43 wind farms in Europe with a total capacity of around 2,400 MW.
Currently there are 16 offshore wind farms under construction and a further 52 with planning permission, totalling around 20,000 MW. Another 80,000 MW is expected eventually to be built, pushing total investment in European offshore wind power to €100-150 billion ($130-200 billion).
“The market is a huge opportunity,” said James O’Brien, power market manager for protective coatings at AkzoNobel’s International Paint, citing his company’s experience in the supply of paints for offshore oil and gas rigs and in marine coatings.
AkzoNobel is competing against other leading European suppliers of marine and offshore coatings like Hempel of Denmark and Jotun of Norway.
“The turbines are bigger than those operating onshore with larger blades and also large subsea foundations,” said Dimitris Likouressis, Hempel’s group marketing manager for protective coatings. “They need high performing paints so that the surfaces do not have to be repainted for a long time because of the high costs of doing maintenance work offshore.”
Hempel is well established in the coatings market for wind turbines since their first development around 20 years ago while it also has a long involvement in marine and oil and gas rig coatings.
But other European coatings companies like BASF Coatings and Bayer MaterialScience for whom the marine and offshore sector is less of a major market have been moving into the new offshore turbine segment while non-European players are thought to have been looking for opportunities there as well.
“The proportion of imports into Europe at the moment is relatively low,” said Likouressis. “But it is expected to go up through suppliers from the U.S. and China and India. The Chinese are very active in the wind turbine sector.”
Offshore wind turbine manufacturers want coatings that comply with quality standards used for coatings for oil and gas platforms, which can mean additional R&D work for newcomers. This is particularly the case for coatings for the foundations and splash zones of the machines.
“The protective coatings systems are relatively similar to those used on oil and gas rigs,” said Likouressis. “The big difference is that they have to be formulated in order to help the turbine makers raise their productivity. This means that they have to be systems that are easy to apply during the manufacture of the turbine components. A key requirement is a quick drying time.”
The most technologically complex part of the turbine for coatings producers are the blades, which can rotate at speeds of around 200 kilometres (124 miles) per hour.
“Protection of turbine blades in offshore environments is proving to be an interesting coating opportunity,” said O’Brien. “Offshore winds, by definition, mean stronger and more reliable winds. They are also driving the development of larger and larger turbine sizes. Larger turbines means bigger blades, which means faster tip speeds and therefore more aggressive service environments.”
“Hitting anything at this speed, including rain drops, can generate a lot of impact energy,” he continued. “Being able to withstand this constant bettering year in and year out has proven to be a challenge to many current wind blade coatings, and it remains one of the largest challenges for future product development.”
Anti-fouling coating systems for ships hulls can be applied to the static foundations of wind turbines despite the absence of the fast moving waters around marine vessels.
“The static water performance of our Intersleek fouling release fluropolymer range has proven to be very effective,” said O’Brien. “It has been successfully employed on a range of static structures from offshore fixed platforms, to ocean moored sea buoys. In many cases normal tidal or wave motion has proven more than adequate to keep the surface fouling free.”
Anti-fouling coatings are also being applied in tidal and wave power installations, which offer a wide range of surfaces for marine organisms such as algae, barnacles, mussels and tube worms to adhere to.
“With tidal and wave power there will be a greater need for anti-fouling coatings,” said Likouressis. “Our anti-fouling silicon gel technology will help in this area.”
Energy from tidal and wave power is an example of a new technological area where protective coatings suppliers feel the need to be involved in the early stages because it has the potential to be a huge market. Among systems under development are oscillating water columns, compression-driven turbines and hydraulic rams that power motors.
“The sector has big potential but at the moment it is at the same stage of development that wind power was around 20 years ago,” said Likouressis.
Europe in fact has the largest tidal wave power station in the world—a 54-year-old 240 MW generator at Rance estuary in northern France. But it uses conventional hydro-electric technology to drive turbines.
AkzoNobel is already participating in two wave power schemes both being developed by two Scotland-based companies—Pelamis and Aquamarine Power. Aquamarine Power’s goal is to develop commercial wave farms around the world.
“The biggest challenges technologically in tidal and wave scheme are related to keeping up with technological changes,” said O’Brien. “This includes the number of differing tidal and wave power prototypes currently available. Those that will be ultimately not economically feasible is difficult to predict.
“Understanding the true protective coating requirements of these structures is the daunting task before us,” O’Brien said.