The new wind turbine blade test lab at the 37,000-foot expansion of the University of Maine AEWC Advanced Structures and Composites Center in Orono is complete and equipment testing is currently under way, according to Paul Melrose, the project manager for research and development.

The lab equipment is being calibrated and tested, with commercial clients scheduled for the spring of 2012.

"It will be about four months before commercial tests begin," said Melrose. "We need to run through trials and test procedures."

Five major manufacturers of wind turbine blades are currently lined up to test their products.

"I can't, of course, tell you who they are," said Melrose, noting that AEWC has signed non-disclosure agreements with the companies. Blade design and materials are carefully guarded secrets in the technology realm, he said.

"I can tell you they are major companies and they are from around the world," said Melrose.

The University of Maine facility, which is able to test wind blades up to 70 meters (229 feet) long, is one of two labs in the country able to accommodate large wind turbine blades used in commercial wind farms.

The other accredited lab is in Boston, in a facility located beneath the Tobin Bridge and operated by the U.S. Department of Energy's renewable energy agency, NREL. The Boston facility is able to test blades up to 90 meters long, said Melrose, but is limited in other testing capabilities.

Melrose said AEWC offers research and development from the ground up, including design and testing of composite materials at the nano-levels, to testing of components no larger than a human arm, to testing of full-size components, including wind blades.

AEWC also has a wave lab used for offshore wind research and can test the effects of exposure to saltwater immersion and salt spray.

When completed in the spring, AEWC will have the capacity to study and test wind blades, towers, anchors and foundation systems, either in the lab or in the field, or both.

Commercial clients will pay from $300,000 to $500,000 to test one blade, said Melrose.

AEWC does not rely on state or University of Maine funding, said Melrose. Approximately 90 percent of funding comes from grants and outside income, he said.