3D printing and discusses the benefits of the technology to the wind energy sector

发布者:Wind Turbine, Electric Generator,Vertical Alternative Free Energy

The 3D Printing Industry interview series on 3D printing and renewable energy turns to additive manufacturing within the wind energy sector.

One company pioneering the adoption of 3D printing within this field is GE Renewable Energy. “Additive manufacturing has the potential to bring a step-change in cost and performance competitiveness in the wind industry,” says GE Renewable Advanced Manufacturing Technology Leader Matteo Bellucci.

Bellucci shares the latest updates from GE’s ongoing efforts to improve wind turbine efficiency and performance with 3D printing and discusses the benefits of the technology to the wind energy sector.

The US saw wind energy grow at a record pace in 2020, with onshore wind power installations outpacing those in solar power for the first time in several years. The country’s offshore wind pipeline grew 24 percent in 2020 compared to the previous year. Another notable emerging trend involves an increased interest in using offshore wind to produce clean hydrogen.

For the European Union (EU) to meet its 40 percent renewable energy target by 2026, it will need to install 32 GW of new wind farms per year between now and then. With wind installations in Europe amounting to just 17.4 GW in 2021 due to global supply chain issues and bottlenecks, is there a golden opportunity for 3D printing to increase its adoption in the space?

Advancing the competitiveness of wind energy with 3D printing

In February 2021, GE was awarded a $6.7 million project by the US Department of Energy (DoE) to explore the design and manufacture of 3D printed wind turbine blades. Working alongside Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), GE seeks to increase the competitiveness of both onshore and offshore wind energy by leveraging 3D printing to reduce manufacturing costs and improve supply chain flexibility.

“Several design and process concepts, as well as new thermoplastic materials, have been screened providing better clarity of how we are going to get to the goal to use 3D printing in blade manufacturing, together with other advanced processes, and a high degree of automation,” says Bellucci.

He explains that turbine blade tips fabricated using 3D printing and thermoplastic composites will have several benefits, including being lighter than conventionally manufactured counterparts. Lightweighting allows larger rotors on turbines to generate more power while also easing the strain on the entire turbine, reducing wear and tear on its gearboxes, drivetrains, bearings, and foundation, and reducing lifecycle costs for turbine operators.

3D printed thermoplastic blade tips could also be melted down and recycled when they reach the end of life, an essential aspect of the project for GE Renewable Energy. The team is also exploring what other parts of the turbine blade could benefit from 3D printing technologies and thermoplastic materials to increase the component’s time-to-market, quality, and sustainability.

Bellucci says that not only will 3D printing bring cost and performance competitiveness benefits to the wind sector, but the technology will also “help GE Renewable support our customers in driving the energy transition farther and faster.”

In September, Fraunhofer IGCV and binder jet system manufacturer voxeljet announced they would be building the “world’s largest” wind turbine 3D printer to date. The system, known as the ‘Advance Casting Cell’ (ACC), is specifically being built to print the molds needed to cast parts for GE’s offshore Haliade-X turbine, which can weigh as much as 60 tons each.

“This program started only a few months ago, and we are still in the early phase of its conceptual development,” says Bellucci. “As we discussed when the project was awarded late last year, the project is meant to accelerate and optimize the production of key casting components of the GE Haliade-X Offshore Turbine. Specifically, 3D printing provides flexibility to produce large turbine components near offshore wind projects, lowering transportation costs and bringing environmental benefits.”

Bellucci says the project team is currently compiling the specification details for the printer, and then voxeljet will begin the design phase of the project, including the new printer’s mechanics.

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