Innovative FastBlade facility officially opened at Babcock’s Rosyth site

FastBlade, the world’s first rapid testing facility for tidal turbine blades was officially opened today (May 13) as part of a partnership between the University of Edinburgh and Babcock.

Its pioneering technology will stress test blades made from composite materials – which must withstand harsh ocean conditions for 20 years – more quickly and will use significantly less energy than any other facility of its kind.

Based at Babcock’s Rosyth site in Fife, the £4.6 million facility was officially opened by UK Government Minister for Scotland Malcolm Offord, supported by a £1.8 million grant from the UK Government, via the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

Lord Offord said the facility would “speed up the rollout of equipment that will capitalise on sustainable tidal power and underline Scotland’s place as a world leader in offshore renewables technology.”

“This test site, borne from innovative research at the University of Edinburgh University and engineering firm Babcock, will not only aid the UK’s Net Zero ambitions, it will also support thousands of skilled energy sector jobs as we transition to a more sustainable future,” he added.

The facility’s 75-tonne reaction frame, built by Babcock, is capable of exerting powerful forces on turbine blades more than 50 feet long. Tests on blades are carried out using a system of powerful hydraulic cylinders and in three months can simulate the same stresses placed on the structures during two decades at sea.

Data generated from testing will help researchers and developers understand how tidal turbine blades deteriorate over time, so they can optimise the design of more durable, efficient structures. FastBlade will also offer client businesses and engineering students and apprentices the chance to develop their digital and data skills in its state-of-the-art research centre.

As well as tidal blades, FastBlade’s technology can also be used to test lightweight bridge sections and aircraft wing components. It is the first facility to open as part of the Arrol Gibb Innovation Campus (AGIC) at the Babcock site in Rosyth helping companies in the marine, nuclear power and energy-transition sectors to transform large-scale manufacturing through innovation and skills development.

Neil Young, Engineering Director for Babcock, added: “Today marks a real milestone for all of us involved in the FastBlade partnership. We’ve taken a vision of technological innovation and together we’ve built a ground-breaking engineering construct that can carry out large-scale accelerated testing of structural composites in a more sustainable way.

“Collaborations like this are fundamental to help us and the wider engineering industry create more research opportunities and secure longer-term investment into digital and data skills – an area that is significantly growing in demand for Babcock and our customers. We believe the research arm of this facility will generate real interest from students looking to learn more about sustainable technology and I’m really looking forward to working with the teams to support that skills agenda and see where this takes us into the future.”

Professor Conchúr Ó Brádaigh, Head of School of Engineering at the University of Edinburgh, said: “FastBlade will be the world’s first dedicated fatigue test facility for tidal turbine blades, and will help this emerging industry provide clean, reliable renewable energy at a reasonable cost to consumers. “The facility will also help maintain the globally leading position of Scottish tidal turbine developers in the race to find sources of clean and secure power, as well as confirming the societal impact of the University of Edinburgh’s research and development efforts in marine renewable energy.”