Boston's wind site to test giant turbine blades

World's largest commercial testing site for wind turbine blades opens on the shore of Boston's harbor. U.S. companies will no longer need to go beyond U.S. borders for testing.

The newly inaugurated Wind Technology Testing Center. Matt Bennett/Massachusetts Governor's Office

Boston is now home to the world's largest commercial wind-blade testing site, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The Wind Technology Testing Center officially opened yesterday inside what looks like a massive airplane hangar in Boston's port.

The seemingly minor ceremonial event is actually quite significant for the U.S. wind industry and could improve the timeline for wind turbine technology development in the U.S.

In the past, large-scale wind blades under development in the U.S. had to be shipped out of the country for testing, usually to Europe, because the U.S. had no testing facility of its own that could accommodate a commercial-scale wind turbine blade longer than 50 meters, according to the DOE.

The Wind Technology Test Center, which is partnering with the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), can test blades up to 90 meters long--the anticipated largest blade size that wind turbines may begin to use in the coming years.

To put that size into perspective, an NFL-regulation football field is just under 110 meters, including the end zones

The center has the capacity to test up to three blades simultaneously. Blades are tested for fatigue through an endurance test that typically takes about four months, as well as for static strength and resonance testing, which normally takes about two weeks, according to the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, the state's economy development agency for technology projects.

It is through a cooperative research and development agreement with Mass Tech that NREL is partnering with the Wind Technology Test Center and providing the facility with testing hardware and technical advice.

The facility is located in the Boston Autoport, an 80-acre port in the Charlestown section of Boston that abuts the Boston Harbor and is operated by the Massachusetts Port Authority. The oceanfront site will enable the Wind Technology Test Center to accept blades shipped by boat, as well as by truck, according to Mass Tech.

The wind testing center, which took two years to build, was funded in part by the DOE, which awarded Massachusetts $25 million for the project via the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. An additional $13.2 million came in the form of loan and grant money from the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust.

Of course, the "world's largest" title is already up for grabs. A wind testing facility in Bremerhaven, Germany, set to open this summer is also expected to be able to accommodate blades up to 90 meters long.

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