When it comes to the design of wind turbines, the bigger they are, the better — at least in terms of cost savings and energy efficiency. However, one of the hurdles of building larger wind turbines is the challenging task of transporting these giant pieces of machinery to the site of construction. One potential solution? Using huge 3D printers to manufacture the components on-site.
3D-printing wind turbines
A recently launched research facility in Bergen, New York, aims to demonstrate what such a solution would look like in practice. The facility hosts a printer that’s reportedly the size of a three-story building. Among those involved in the project is GE, which hopes the research would enable it “to 3D print the bottom portion of the wind turbine towers on-site at wind farms.” This would ultimately help the company reduce transportation costs as turbines continue to grow in size.
Chief technology officer at GE Renewable Energy, Danielle Merfeld, said that it was “particularly important to continuously improve the ways we design, manufacture, transport, and construct the large components of modern wind farms.”
World’s largest 3D printer
The research facility in Bergen is the offshoot of a collaboration between cement giant Holcim and Cobod, which specializes in 3D printing. GE says the facility’s printer is “the size of a three-story building” and can print tower sections as tall as 20 meters. According to Cobod founder, Henrik Lund-Nielsen, the printer is “the largest of its kind in the world” and could “print in excess of 10 tons of real concrete per hour.”
Part of the research project’s funding came from the US Department of Energy. A team of 20 people is currently working on optimizing the technology, which is expected to see its “first applications in the field” in the next five years, says GE.