Is it possible to drive the foundation piles of offshore wind turbines into the sea bed in a sustainable and economical way? Fistuca used Maasvlakte 2 as a testing location for the innovative BLUE Piling technology. This development can save both money and time in the construction of maritime wind farms, helping further reduce the cost price of wind power.
Fistuca was founded in 2008 as a spin-off from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at TU Eindhoven. Director Jasper Winkes devoted his thesis to an alternative onshore pile-driving method using a diesel hammer on the land. The economic crisis meant there was no market for this development. Then, in 2011, he came up with an alternative idea for driving the foundation piles of offshore wind turbines, monopiles, into the sea bed.
Driving with water
With ‘BLUE Piling’, a column of water is pushed up by the combustion of a gas mix. The water then falls back down by force of gravity and strikes the monopile. “A lot of energy is transferred,” explains Winkes. “What’s more, the impact is long and spread out, unlike the abrupt blow that a conventional pile driver delivers. It also makes less noise, which is often a problem currently encountered when driving monopiles. Germany in particular has extremely stringent noise requirements. However, when constructing the foundations for offshore wind turbines in the Netherlands, millions have to be invested in noise-reduction measures to protect marine life.”
Time and cost savings
The relatively slow pile-driving movement means the monopile suffers less damage than with convention methods. It is even possible to drive in a fully assembled pile, i.e. complete with boat landing, ladders, corrosion protection etc. This new technology promises a significant reduction in the time and correspondingly lower costs involved in installing a foundation. “The pile foundation can be completed in one go, with no more offshore work being required afterwards.”
Tests at Maasvlakte 2
Huisman Equipment of Schiedam co-financed the technology. Studies are also being run to establish whether the BLUE Piling technology works well and whether any improvements are needed. According to Winkes, Maasvlakte 2 is an outstanding testing site. “You aren’t allowed to conduct these kinds of tests anywhere, but the Port of Rotterdam Authority has given its permission for them to be carried out on this site. Furthermore, the site is easy to reach and there are few buildings in the area. It’s the perfect combination. It is great that the Port Authority has a proactive attitude towards this kind of innovation and the transition to renewable energy!”
The top of a monopile is sealed off for the test. The pile can be struck without it sinking into the ground. “This way we can use the same pile to test our pile-driving technology for weeks. When testing is over, we will demonstrate that the whole monopile can be used again. That too is something completely new.”
At the end of the summer, an offshore test run jointly by Sif, Van Oord and the eight largest energy companies with offshore wind power operations will be conducted near Rotterdam. “Our aim is that BLUE Piling will allow us to reduce both the cost of installation and the cost of the foundations themselves. We can install the foundations for offshore wind turbines in fewer steps while extending the lifespan of the monopiles.
This means savings running into the millions for each wind farm, which in turn will mean lower costs for wind power. Another major impact could be made by changing the design of monopiles to accompany the BLUE Piling technology. You would be able to make certain parts lighter because you cause less damage when pile driving.”
Maasvlakte 2: test and demo location for offshore wind
Europe’s maritime capital is the ideal location for innovation in offshore wind. Maasvlakte 2 in Rotterdam offers space for offshore testing and demo facilities. But where are all these facilities and what do the various locations offer? Find out via the Offshore Innovation overview.