If you have ever visited the mid-west or western parts of the United States, chances are you've seen those giant wind farms that span hundreds and even thousands of acres across prairie and desert lands.
In recent years, the same technology used to drive those powerful turbines onshore has been employed offshore to harvest enough wind energy to generate vast amounts of electricity.
Europe has been reaping the benefits of offshore wind power for over 20 years, and now more than 3,300 wind turbines dot the European coastal landscape. Along with onshore wind farms, offshore installations produce enough energy to power 12 percent of the European Union's electricity supply.
In the U.S., offshore wind farm development has been slower — the Block Island Wind Farm, located off the coast of Rhode Island, is the only such facility currently producing electricity --but that is changing.
Several states along the Atlantic seaboard -- New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Rhode Island -- have joined together to create a pipeline of offshore wind development enough to power three million homes by 2030.
Offshore Wind Farm Growth
Several factors explain the shift toward and rapid growth of offshore wind farms:
- Wind speeds offshore tend to be faster than on land, resulting in higher energy output.
- Because they are unobstructed by topography, offshore winds are steadier than on land, making energy production more reliable.
- Much of the world's population is concentrated in cities located in coastal areas with very high energy needs. Building offshore wind farms can help to meet those needs from nearby sources for years to come.
- Offshore wind power will spur the creation of well-paying jobs. In Europe, for example, 70 offshore wind projects across ten countries currently support more 58,000 jobs in both coastal and inland communities.
For all of those reasons and more, countries around the globe are rapidly mobilizing to tap their offshore wind resources.
Structural Protection Key to Offshore Wind Power's Future
As promising as all that sounds, none of it matters if the foundational structures on which the wind turbines are built can't withstand the corrosive and damaging effects caused by seawater, marine life, and marine vessels. That’s where two products from Mark Tool — SplashTRON® and Bio-Shield® — can make a significant difference.
SplashTRON® Protects the 'Splash Zone'
Nowhere is structural protection needed more than in the "splash zone," the area immediately above and below the mean water level.
Tides cause the water level to rise and fall, alternately wetting and drying exposed metal surfaces. This constant exposure to salt water and oxygen is corrosive, weakening the structure and threatening its long-term viability. Continuous wave action also erodes the construction, and debris and boats coming into contact with the metal can cause further damage.
Mark Tool's SplashTRON® product can keep damage from occurring.
SplashTRON® is a strong, yet flexible elastomeric coating that completely, permanently and uniformly bonds to metal surfaces. It resists corrosion and helps prevent damage from impact. Its flexibility means SplashTRON® won’t crack or disbond as the structure bends, expands, and contracts.
SplashTRON® has been used effectively on oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and other areas around the world for more than 30 years, so there's no reason to think it can't protect wind turbine support structures equally well.
Bio-Shield® Prevents Marine Biofouling
While SplashTRON® is protecting the splash zone, another threat looms just below the water’s surface.
Marine life, such as algae, barnacles, and mussels can build up on the wind turbine structure — up to 36 inches thick depending on the water temperature.
The additional weight caused by the growth (biofoulants can weigh up to 150 pounds per cubic foot) can seriously endanger the structural integrity of the material and reduce fatigue life, increasing strength requirements and the danger of overturning.
It's evident that preventing such biofouling is critical, which is where Bio-Shield®, another Mark Tool product, can be a useful deterrent.
Bio-Shield® is an anti-foulant coating for offshore structures. It uses a copper-nickel compound wrapped around a SplashTRON® layer that keeps marine life from building up around structures, eliminating the need for expensive marine biofouling cleanup and removal operations.
Responsibly-developed offshore wind power offers a real opportunity to meet the world's coastal energy needs. It is a renewable resource that can spur investments in local economies and create unparalleled job growth.
For commercial offshore wind farms to be economically viable, however, the materials used to build them must withstand the damaging effects of harsh marine environments for decades to come.
That makes protecting the very foundation of these energy-producing machines extremely vital. With SplashTRON® and Bio-Shield®, offshore wind farm developers have what they need to make the promise of an offshore wind energy future a certain reality.