A robotic device that can inspect the blades of offshore wind turbines and resurface them has been demonstrated in the offshore environment for the first time.
The BladeBUG robot recently completed a series of tests on the ORE Catapult’s 7-MW Levenmouth demonstration turbine off the coast of Fife.
The ORE Catapult believes the six-legged robot could provide a 30% cost reduction compared to current blade inspection techniques, which are conducted by windfarm technicians using rope-access. This could have a measurable effect on the levelised cost of energy of offshore wind. For next-generation turbines, the ORE Catapult predicts the cost savings could reach 50%.
The robot is being developed under a £1M collaboration project between BladeBUG and ORE Catapult, part funded by Innovate UK. By the project’s end in 2021, the ORE Catapult expects BladeBUG will be capable of inspecting blade surfaces for emergent cracks and imperfections, transmitting data back to shore and resurfacing blades.
The robot previously demonstrated its capability on blade sections and a vertical training tower at ORE Catapult’s National Renewable Energy Centre in Blyth. “The blade walk at an operational offshore wind turbine has now proven that the robot can conduct lengthy deployments in real-world conditions,” the ORE Catapult said.
During the demonstration, the robot walked 50 m on a vertically positioned blade on the Levenmouth turbine.
During the trials, it demonstrated the adherence of its vacuum-padded feet to blade surfaces in offshore conditions. It also demonstrated the ability to navigate the varying curvature of blade surfaces in a variety of scenarios and to transmit data from blade scans and live video feeds to technicians.
ORE Catapult operational performance director Chris Hill said: “This is an incredibly significant technology that we know is being keenly watched by the industry as a potential game-changer.
“It has a clear potential for cutting costs, reducing human offshore deployment and increasing blade lifetimes.
“BladeBUG’s first walk at Levenmouth is offshore wind’s ‘moon walk,’ a historic milestone in the industry’s evolution.
“Robotics are here to stay, and they will be an essential ingredient to operating ever-expanding windfarms, deeper-water sites and faster, bigger turbines in the coming years.”
BladeBUG chief executive Chris Cieslak said: “This is historic moment for us as a company. In a little over a year we have gone from designing and testing our first prototype to taking our first tentative steps with our Mk I robot, to seeing BladeBUG walk along the blade of an offshore wind turbine.”
The robot is a key component of the £4.2M MIMRee project which will demonstrate a fully autonomous inspection and repair mission to an offshore windfarm.
During these trials, BladeBUG will work in collaboration with an autonomous vessel and teams of drones, using a robotic arm to clean and resurface damaged blades. The final MIMRee system technology trials are set to take place in mid-2021.