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China’s $60 Billion Wind Empire Needs to Grow Its Own Blades

  • Balsa wood is a key material in blades used for wind turbines
  • Domestic plantings to help relieve shortage and reduce imports
Balsa wood in Xishuangbanna in 2021.
Balsa wood in Xishuangbanna in 2021.Photographer: Zou Shouqing
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In the tropical climate of China’s Yunnan province, scientists are planting a key ingredient to help strengthen the country’s position as the world leader in wind power: balsa trees.

Balsa, best known as a craft material for making model airplanes, is a major component of giant blades for wind turbines. China’s $60 billion wind industry sources almost all its materials domestically, but it’s had to reach abroad for the lightweight wood.