Structural Composites Research Facility (SCRF)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Engineering


It is proposed to establish an innovative Structural Composites Research Facility (SCRF) for faster fatigue or cyclic load testing of large structures. This will initially be focussed on fibre-reinforced composite material structures, such as stiff tidal turbine blades (e.g. fabricated from carbon fibre and glass fibre reinforced polymer resins). The facility will be the first of its kind in the world, and will use a brand new, ultra-efficient digital displacement regenerative pumping hydraulic system.

For fatigue testing of tidal turbine blades, the novel hydraulic actuation system will only use 10-15% of the energy input required by conventional hydraulic testing systems, and will test structures 10 times faster than possible with existing hydraulic systems (test frequency increase from 0.1 Hz to 1 Hz). This will enable more and faster impact-led academic research into fundamental engineering options for new materials technology and accelerated evaluation of tidal turbine blades leading to more rapid certification and deployment to market. Such a capability is critical to the success of this emerging composite materials technology for renewable energy and will accelerate the conversion of available tidal marine energy, which is currently under-exploited at a time of increasing national demand for energy.

Nationally, the facility will also underpin fundamental research in composite materials across all sectors, to be targeted at applications in high value manufacturing sectors such as aerospace, automotive, and civil engineering applications (e.g., structural health monitoring in bridges and buildings subject to ongoing fatigue under cyclic loading).

Academics will benefit by access to a state-of-the art accelerated fatigue testing facility, opening new research opportunities on fundamental materials and process topics.

Industry will benefit by reduced design risk from better testing data and by reduction of product testing time, within the product development cycle times needed in the renewable energy, aerospace, naval defence, marine and infrastructure sectors.

Planned Impact

The SCRF facility will be the first specialised fatigue facility in the world for stiff, slender composite structures. It will enable the full-scale evaluation, standardisation and commercialisation of a low-carbon renewable energy resource, (tidal turbine technology) as well as maintaining the UK's leadership position in the offshore renewable energy industry.

The UK Renewable Energy Roadmap (2011) discusses the potential for wave and tidal energy of 27GW in the UK by 2050. The UK currently leads the world in tidal energy development, with the 2016 installation of MeyGen's Phase 1a Pentland Firth tidal array project, which will be the world's first large-scale commercial tidal array. SCRF will provide an innovative facility for rapid research, development, evaluation and certification of critical elements of tidal turbines, the blades, which are the prime movers in the technology. Furthermore, the facility will enable UK companies to maintain their lead over international competition and will help attract international industry to the UK.

Academic researchers in composites, marine renewable energy, structural engineering and aerospace will gain access to a world-leading facility, which will enable the validation of fundamental composite mechanics theories at application scales, which in turn will result in the refinement of design methodologies and standards for blade technologies. Research in composite materials has been identified as a priority by EPSRC, the 2009 BIS UK Composites Strategy, Innovate UK and the High Value Manufacturing Catapult. The SCRF facility supports the priority areas of Productivity (enabling faster development and certification of new technologies) and Resilience (enabling the commercialisation of low-carbon tidal energy) in the EPSRC Delivery Plan 2016/17-2019/20.

SCRF will support composites and materials research in the following EPSRC-funded programmes: Centre for Advanced Materials in Renewable Energy Generation (CAMREG, Edinburgh, Cranfield, Strathclyde), SuperGen Marine (led by Edinburgh), SuperGen Wind (Strathclyde, Manchester, Cranfield) and the Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Composite (CIMComp, Manchester, Southampton). It will also leverage the participation of University of Edinburgh, which has a long track record in offshore renewables, in initiatives such as the Marine UKCMER and the IDCORE Doctoral Training Centre. The SCRF will complement the significant national investment in large scale state of the art test facilities currently being constructed at the National Infrastructure Laboratory (N|I|L) at the University of Southampton, through UKCRIC, which is funded by BEIS and EPSRC.

The SCRF at the University of Edinburgh will also enable fundamental engineering research into 1) structural design of highly-loaded composite tidal turbine blades. Tidal turbine blades cannot be fatigue tested like wind blades by using resonant methods, due to their mass and stiffness, but must be loaded hydraulically; 2) novel, low-cost and high durability polymer composites and anti-erosion coatings for tidal and wind turbine blades; 3) civil engineering structures (such as bridge and building elements); 4) rapid fatigue testing of carbon fibre aerospace structures such as wing boxes.

SCRF will enable fatigue tests to be carried out up to 10 times faster than at present, thus increasing the number of tests possible and the statistical confidence levels of resulting data and reducing the design risk involved, thereby fitting within the product development cycle needed for tidal turbines (Scotrenewables), wind energy (Suzlon Energy), naval and marine defence (MacTaggart Scott) and aerospace composite structures (Bombardier Aerospace). Composite design techniques will be refined and design accuracy improved, reducing the uncertainty associated with new materials and designs.


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Description The award has led to the construction of a full-scale structural testing facility called FastBlade (, which is the world's first dedicated testing facility for certification of tidal energy turbine blades. FastBlade will enable the emerging tidal energy industry to improve its design processes and reduce the cost of tidal energy. The structural lifetime fatigue testing of tidal turbine blades is currently a challenge faced by the tidal industry. Due to the high stiffness and short length of composite tidal blades, it is not possible to perform resonant fatigue testing in the same way as wind turbine blades. The aerospace industry uses conventional hydraulic systems to fatigue test composite structures such as wings. Although this approach would technically work for tidal blades, testing using this method is economically unviable for an emerging sector. The FastBlade testing facility has been designed to specifically address the challenge of providing lifetime fatigue testing of tidal turbine blades in a cost effective and timely manner. The facility uses a Digital Displacement® hydraulic system to enable energy recovery between loading cycles at high flow rates without compromising on the quality, control or confidence in certification of tidal blades. FastBlade will provide training for students and apprentices, deliver cutting edge research outputs, and enable the tidal sector to make the next step toward commercial success with the delivery of larger and certified blades.
Exploitation Route The novel regenerative hydraulic systems being pioneered by FastBlade and the University of Edinburgh greatly reduces (>80%) the amount of energy required to hydraulically test these structures. The technology could be applied to other sectors such as aerospace, marine, automotive and general industrial testing to save energy and increase the speed of product testing, thus reducing product development times and reducing overall cost.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Construction,Energy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Transport

Description LoadTide - Fatigue Testing of Tidal Turbine Blades
Amount £99,372 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Department Supergen ORE Hub
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2021 
End 04/2022