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The Role of Research in Sustainability and Innovation

Research drives innovation and technological advancements; it's a rigorous process that helps companies like RWE identify, analyse, and solve problems. Research also plays a crucial role in understanding and addressing environmental challenges. So, what research projects are there are RWE?

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The Black Blade pilot project

Part of RWE’s sustainability strategy is the preservation of biodiversity and the protection of wildlife. A frequent topic of discussion is how wind turbines disrupt birds’ flight paths and how improvements can be made in this area. RWE introduced The Black Blade pilot project in the Netherlands to look into this issue and try to find science-based solutions. What did they do? Substantial and eye-catching modifications were made to seven turbines at RWE’s Westereems wind farm in Eemshaven.One of the three rotor blades of each of those turbines was painted black and fitted with a sophisticated monitoring system comprising a camera and a motion sensor. Take a look at the black rotor blades being installed in the video linked below:

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What is the purpose of the study?

The researchers aim to gain new insights into the birds’ flight behaviour in view of different rotor blade colours and find out whether this change leads to them flying more safely. With its large bird population and different bird species, Westereems is particularly well suited to this project. That’s because in the spring and in autumn, there are many migratory birds in the area on their way further afield.

What challenges were there?

The painting of the blades started in August and was regularly halted due to weather conditions. Painting the blades is an intensive and time-consuming process. First, the turbine has to be shut down, the suspension bridge installation (in which the painters stand) has to be installed, and then the blades have to be sanded, degreased and painted twice. The painting process takes about three to four days per turbine.Once the paint is on, it is necessary to find out what effect this has on the blade material. Black paint attracts heat, causing the temperature of the blade to rise and possibly overheat on hot, sunny days. With thermometers installed inside the blades and additional inspections, the impact on the material will be monitored.

Results

The results of the pilot study are yet to be released, but a similar study that took place in Norway in 2021 found positive results. As you can see, companies like RWE and committed to continuous improvement that has a lasting impact on our environment.