The Michigan Strategic Fund (MSF) board granted the project a Centers of Energy Excellence designation in April 2010, including a $6 million grant for AWE to establish operations that will initially focus on the production of spar caps: the "backbone" of a wind turbine blade. The grant will also be used by Dow for material development and optimization, as well as by MAG for designing, constructing, and demonstrating a prototype automated system for manufacturing the spar cap. MAG has developed similar technologies for manufacturing composite aircraft components. Designed to help the state diversify into renewable energy technologies, the state funding matches U.S. federal stimulus funds AWE received in December 2009.
The goal for the "material-enabled automated technology" is to create advantages over the existing manual manufacturing process for wind turbine blades, enabling the industry to increase production rates of higher-quality components with "attractive economics." This investment and others for wind-generated power are growing in part due to a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) goal to increase domestic electricity production from wind power by 20% over the next 20 years.
Following the initial work on advancing materials and automating manufacturing technology for spar cap production, the companies say the long-term vision for the technology is for it to be applied with other wind turbine components, and assembly of those components, into finished wind-turbine blades. Oak Ridge National Laboratory will assist Dow with evaluation of the materials, with Dow and MAG expecting to have a material-enabled automation technology solution available in 2012.
Dow's Epoxy unit supplies raw materials for all composite processes and technologies, including filament winding, hand lay-up, pre-impregnated, and infusion, with low viscosity liquid epoxy resins and low viscosity blends based on bisphenol-A and bisphenol-F. Within the blade market, epoxy competes with polyester resins, with Dow claiming that epoxies provide improved stability, fatigue resistance, and lower shrinkage.
In 2009, Dow competitor, Ashland Performance Materials, announced a joint effort with Amtech, LLC and Endurance Wind Power to produce wind turbine blades at Amtech's North American manufacturing facility in Washington. Amtech was contracted by Endurance Wind Power to fabricate blades for that company's line of small to mid-sized wind turbines. Ashland Performance Materials calls itself the global leader in unsaturated polyester resins and epoxy vinyl ester resins.