Securing the ocean’s energy giants: how the world’s biggest wind farms are constructed

Thousands of tons of cargo. Tight operational windows. No compromise on safety.

Worldwide energy consumption is increasing and renewable energy sources such as wind power are under huge pressure to meet these demands.

As urgency grows, so must the ambition of renewable energy projects. Today’s wind farms must be larger and more efficient than ever before. For operators, this means scaling up installations under ever tighter deadlines..

Securing power for the future

8km off the coast of Taiwan, the Yunlin offshore windfarm is one of these mega-projects. A 640MW development, it will be constructed of 80 8MW monopiles, each weighing up to 2,400 tonnes. It is one of the most ambitious wind power infrastructure projects in the world.

But before the foundational monopiles even reach Taiwan, these giants of the ocean must embark on a journey fraught with risk – a journey that starts more than 9,000km away at the Steelwind Nordenham production site in northern Germany.

Transporting giants of the sea

Steelwind began manufacturing the wind turbine monopiles in July 2019, constructing 40 complete monopiles and 120 monopile segments from high-strength steel plate. Once built the monopiles needed to be loaded onto cargo ships and transported across the sea. Heavy-lift shipping and offshore transport contractor Jumbo Maritime was tasked with ferrying them to their final installation point.

Engineers, crew and dock loaders know that every inch of the monopiles’ journey from factory to installation comes with a potential threat to the project and to crew safety, from damage to the cargo, to missing narrow operating windows. Therefore, it is crucial that they can rely on equipment to help the project run smoothly and safely.

Having been crane-lifted with precision-engineering from dockside to ship, the port crew now need to ensure that these 90m-tall, 11m-diameter cylinders are secured safely and reliably for the long journey ahead, where they will face rough seas, extreme temperatures, and the lashing of rain and sea spray.

“Large scale projects mean big equipment, big equipment needs a lot of preparation, and preparation takes a lot of time,” says Peter Mathot, Senior Port Captain at Jumbo Maritime. “However, due to our contract, the time we have to get the cargo onboard safely and without damage is limited.”

A new performance standard for the industry

For such an enormous task, Jumbo Maritime knew it needed the best equipment, which is why it turned to Dolezych, producer and supplier of load security products during transport.

Walter Eckstein, Sales Director for Load Security Products at Dolezych, says: “The partnership between Dolezych and Jumbo started with a challenging request from Jumbo; to improve its current lashing systems by making them lighter and easier to handle. It also wanted the systems to have a greater flexibility in daily operation.”

The result was the DoNova PowerLash chain, made with Dyneema® – a lightweight synthetic chain, with the strength of steel but softer and with improved ergonomics for easier handling and more flexible operation.

“The reason Dyneema® fiber is such an important ingredient of the DoNova® chain is the fact that it’s the only existing synthetic fiber that has combined incredible lightness and softness, with strength and durability.” Walter Eckstein, Sales Director for Load Security Products, Dolezych

“Compared with conventional steel chains, the product is up to 85% lighter. It’s so lightweight that it floats in water and has a very limited – almost zero – stretch. These characteristics make this material a very attractive alternative to steel chains.”

Walter also notes how the lightness, durability and improved ergonomics of the DoNova®.
PowerLash chain can also help reduce operational costs. “Cost savings are made in the ‘in use’ phase,” he says. “The chains are more ergonomic for quicker work, they have a different workload to steel which results in lighter handling, and they reduce overall emissions and resource consumption due to the lower loads being transported.

“The DoNova® PowerLash chain with Dyneema® is also an answer to growing demands from the wider market,” continues Walter. “In creating it, we combined conventional systems with Dyneema® fiber, which has led to a remarkable new solution for the industry.”

Lighter but stronger

Synthetic chains made with Dyneema® are as strong as steel but 85% lighter, and lashing speeds are twice as fast. Lightweight chains also mean that the crews securing the monopiles are able to quickly transport and maneuver the equipment into the correct position around the monopiles, without damaging the cargo or incurring the need for specialist equipment.

Not only is this safer for crews’ health and safety, but it also increases efficiency, by reducing crew numbers and operation times, which can be vast when it comes to enormous lashing operations like these.

“For us, safety is the most important thing onboard and Dyneema® is part of our safety culture, which we look to improve every day.” Peter Mathot, Senior Port Captain, Jumbo Maritime

“With Dyneema®, one man can carry a lot of chains,” continues Peter. “They’re lighter, take less time to install and fewer crew members are required to handle each lashing. For example, we used to need three to four men to apply a single steel lashing. A Dyneema® lashing chain only needs one or two people.

“For huge cargo, such as these monopiles, we have always used steel lashings and wires to keep it secure. Now we use synthetic chains made with Dyneema®.”

No compromise on safety

Securing and transporting such enormous monopiles under tight time pressure and in unpredictable weather conditions means there is always a risk to worker safety. Peter knows having equipment he can rely on is crucial to the success of the project, but also to keeping his crew safe and meeting important safety regulations.

“Dyneema® helps us ensure our operations are both reliable and safe and that’s why we use them instead of steel chains,” he says. “In the future, we hope that we can make all the equipment on board our ships as safe and reliable as Dyneema®.”

Sustainable thinking

With companies facing increasing regulations around their environmental impact, Jumbo also needed to consider the sustainability of its own operations. Judith Bosch, Application Manager, DSM Protective Materials, explains how sustainability is a key factor in the engineering of Dyneema® fiber and what really makes the material stand apart.

“One of the major sustainability benefits of choosing Dyneema®-based products are that they have high durability, and therefore a longer service life,” she says. “Dyneema® products are designed to perform in extreme temperatures and under extreme stress, extending equipment lifetimes and lowering maintenance costs.”

“Dyneema®-based materials have the ‘greenest strength’, because they have the lowest carbon footprint per unit strength of any lashing system.” Judith Bosch, Application Manager, DSM Protective Materials

Securing the future

With the monopiles safely and securely attached to the cargo ships, they can now begin their treacherous journey across the ocean to Taiwan. However, the manufacturers, crew and clients can be safe in the knowledge that whatever the weather throws at them, cargo and crew will be safe.

These kinds of heavier and more complex lashing operations, tighter turnarounds, and mounting costs put all operators under pressure to deliver without compromising on job site safety or protection of payloads. Dyneema® fiber helps overcome these challenges while meeting the highest regulatory standards, ensuring lashing operations are as quick, safe and smooth as possible.

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