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LM Wind Power has developed and tested a low styrene emission gelcoat to be used in all of its plants worldwide within the next 2 years.
The company decided to remove hazardous styrene from its manufacturing process which it used in the gelcoat that was sprayed in the moulds before glass layup of their wind turbine blades.
LM Wind Power claim styrene is a widely used solvent, which correctly managed in manufacturing causes no apparent health effects, but it has been the focus of attention in some national regulatory bodies because it has a strong odour at quite low concentrations. LM Wind Power felt it was compelled to investigate alternatives to live up to their aim of continuously raising the HSE standards in the company’s operations and improving the work environment for its employees.
It says it gave a cross-functional group the task to find an alternative gelcoat solution that would reduce styrene emissions in its plants by at least 50%. The only requirement was that it shouldn’t compromise the quality of the product in any way.
“We applied a completely open approach,” says LM Wind Power’s Senior Manager for Global Equipment Engineering, Dan Lindvang, who managed the project. “Basically we were willing to try anything, even solutions that would require different processes and manufacturing methods as long as we could meet the target to reduce emissions. We wanted to be able to think completely out of the box.” Dan continues: “Ideally, the gelcoat would not contain styrene at all. However, that would require some other solvent which would just create other and maybe unknown HSE challenges. Therefore, we focused on solutions that would cause a significant reduction of styrene emissions taking us a huge step on the way. Maybe it will be possible longer term to find completely styrene free solutions.”
The company say it scrutinised the range of existing low styrene content products already on the market. To them, the results were not encouraging, and ultimately made LM Wind Power ask their key suppliers for an alternative. A couple of suppliers, including Scott Bader, began tests. Several comprehensive lab tests and 2 million cycles on a full scale 43.8 meter blade later, the company was ready to implement Scott Bader’s new ultra-low-styrene content gelcoat in its 12 plants worldwide. Full roll out was completed in 2012, in combination with new features on the mould that prevent the styrene from dispersing out over the sides, and the target of at least 50% reduction in styrene emissions was fully achieved.
According to LM Wind Power, it didn’t have to change any of its processes with Scott Bader’s new low-styrene content gelcoat as it has the same properties and curing time as the standard gelcoat. They say the biggest difference is that there is no smell in the workshop. The new gelcoat is more expensive than the previous one but LM Wind Power is confident that the investment will pay off.
VP Global Manufacturing, Richard Bevan states, “We have every interest in providing the best possible work environment for our employees. Styrene has been on the list of chemicals that we would like to eliminate for quite some time. Implementing the ultra-low styrene content gelcoat has taken us a large step on the way. It illustrates how high ambitions for HSE can foster innovation and hopefully make a difference for other industry players too.”
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