The wind-power industry’s latest problem: Not enough balsa wood


Supply of the wood, a key component in many wind-turbine blades, was already struggling to keep pace with growing demand. Now a long and heavy rainy season in Ecuador, one of its main producers, has further limited the wood’s availability. (Financial Times)

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Talking point: The fast-growing balsa tree has long been prized for its lightweight and stiffness relative to density. Turbine makers are producing ever-larger bladesthe longest that’s commercially available almost matches the wingspan of an Airbus A380 jetlinerthat are increasingly being designed to last for decades with little to no maintenance. The growing demand has meant prices have almost doubled in the past 12 months, and suppliers are warning that the balsa shortage threatens to negatively impact what is expected to be a peak year of demand in 2020 as some of the world’s biggest economies—the U.S., China and India—prepare for increased wind capacity. Clean-energy experts have long pointed out the need for a manufactured alternative, such as Harvard University’s 3D-printed cellular composites. The balsa shortage has led to a shift towards alternatives that are already in the market, like PET plastic bottles.