Imagine a system designed to maneuver around towering wind turbines, performing complex tasks such as component exchanges and turbine erection, all while using the inherent strength of the wind turbine tower for support. Enter the KoalaLifter, a groundbreaking craneless system that promises to disrupt the wind energy sector.
The KoalaLifter, aptly named for its climbing mechanism that mirrors the method used by koalas to ascend trees, is a self-climbing system that attaches to the wind turbine tower via expandable collars. This ingenious concept allows the KoalaLifter to adapt to any wind turbine model, regardless of the height or design, and execute major correctives without the need for high-tonnage cranes.
The advantages of KoalaLifter are manifold and address a myriad of challenges faced by the wind energy industry. For starters, it adapts to any type of wind turbine tower, regardless of its height. This versatility extends to its operation in high winds, ease of installation with a simple dumping system, and transportation without requiring any special permits. This presents a promising opportunity for countries exploring new wind farm projects.
Not only is the KoalaLifter efficient, but it also has an impressive load capacity. It can handle blades weighing up to 20 tons, nacelle components up to 30 tons, and erect turbines up to 150 tons. The operation time for component exchange is about 5-6 hours, and turbine erection takes approximately 17 hours, significantly reducing wind turbine downtime compared to current methods.
A unique feature of the KoalaLifter is its minimal environmental impact. It negates the need for extensive tree cutting and civil works, as it doesn’t require a large clearance area for movement. Instead, it can be transported using a standard 40-foot truck, whereas traditional methods could necessitate up to 40 trucks.
The KoalaLifter boasts an innovative design with high adaptability. The friction collars can mold to the shape and diameter of the wind turbine tower, enabling the equipment to climb the tower even in winds reaching speeds of 25m/second. The climbing process involves a synchronized mechanism of expanding and retracting these collars to facilitate upward movement.
Safety remains a paramount concern in the design and operation of the KoalaLifter. The component always travels with the equipment, making the process of exchanging components or erecting the turbine safer than traditional methods. Plus, the system is controlled by a remote with a 300m scope, allowing a single technician to operate it from a safe distance.
Back in 2020, the European Innovation Council recognized the potential of KoalaLifter and awarded it a grant of over €2M. Recently, the company took a significant leap by closing its first commercial agreement worth 44 million euros until 2026. This milestone was achieved through a joint venture with a Brazilian company. Through this partnership, KoalaLifter will supply nine craneless devices, with two currently under manufacture, and certify and train local technicians for wind farm maintenance tasks.
Moreover, the company plans to adopt a similar joint venture model to penetrate foreign markets. Presently, they are in talks with several companies across different countries. The CEO, Emmanuel García de la Peña, states, “We compete against cranes that are transported in sixty trucks, while our equipment is transported in one. That alone gives you an idea that we can be competitive in any market.”
There is notable interest in KoalaLifter’s technology for dismantling wind farms at the end of their useful life and in offshore wind power. It can notably reduce maintenance costs, making it an attractive proposition for the wind power sector. In fact, several industry players, including Iberdrola, have expressed interest in the technology.
Notably, the offshore market can significantly benefit from KoalaLifter’s technology. The incorporation of a wave compensation platform allows for maintenance and erection tasks to be transferred offshore, opening up new avenues for offshore wind farm projects. Especially in the case of floating wind farms, this technology has the potential to substantially decrease maintenance costs, making offshore wind energy more feasible and cost-effective.
Beyond its technological edge, the Navarra-based company, KoalaLifter, has shown a commitment to creating local jobs and strengthening regional economies. The joint venture in Brazil, for instance, incorporates and trains local technicians, thereby generating employment and boosting skill sets in the local community. With a current staff strength of 20, the company plans to continue this inclusive approach as it expands to other countries.
In summary, KoalaLifter is shaping up to be a game-changer in the wind energy sector. Its craneless system’s high adaptability, efficiency, load capacity, and minimal environmental impact are attributes that could profoundly impact the wind farm projects of the future. With an emphasis on local partnerships and job creation, coupled with the company’s vision to penetrate global markets, KoalaLifter stands poised to make a lasting impact in the renewable energy landscape.