How Composite Materials Can Add Strength, Durability in Hydroelectric Applications

Composites like carbon fiber can broaden the field for constructing and repairing turbines, lock gates and other essentials of the hydroelectric infrastructure industry. Used more and more in infrastructure applications like bridge building and pipeline repair, composite materials are proving increasingly useful in the area of hydropower.

Composite use in hydroelectric turbines 

While steel is still the material of choice for larger turbines, evidence shows that small and micro turbines can benefit from the unique properties of fiber-reinforced plastic (FRP). Lighter composites may save between 50 and 70 percent weight in these turbines when compared with steel, and they rival the alloy in corrosion resistance. With no need for welding equipment and the ability to use just one to two pieces, manufacturing costs can also be lower. And advancements in carbon fiber technology mean these composite turbines can withstand the vibrations and water load such equipment is regularly exposed to.

Composites in dam gates

Other hydroelectric applications include lock gates, like those installed in 2016 in the Wilhelmina Canal in the Netherlands — reportedly the world’s largest FRP lock gates at that time. Composites’ strength, durability and corrosion resistance mean that, in the Wilhelmina case, the gates should resist continuous water pressure for more than 100 years.

In the United States, this is an important factor. It’s estimated that 95 percent of the dams managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are more than 30 years old; 52 percent have reached or exceeded their 50-year service lives. When totaled, the dams in need of repairs would cost the country $24 billion.

Restoring dams with composites

The Catagunya Dam restoration on Tasmania, Australia’s Derwent River is yet another example of composites’ benefits to the hydroelectric sector. There, carbon fiber was used in the dam’s spillway face as tensile reinforcing for the cantilever section. These epoxy-bound strips are cost effective and may maintain a greater load than steel anchoring over time.

Composites One is the leading supplier of infrastructure composite material in North America

Composites One is the leading distributor of composites throughout North America. We work with the infrastructure sector supplying high-quality carbon fiber and epoxy materials. To learn more about the composite materials we distribute for infrastructure, contact Composites One today.