GE Renewable Energy yesterday opened a new 3D printing research centre in Bergen, New York with the world’s biggest 3D printer. It aims to build the capacity to print the lower sections of tall wind turbine towers right on wind farm sites.
The printer, from Danish manufacturer Cobod, is the size of a three-storey building and can print tower sections up to 20 meters high.
Printing on site could allow wind farm developers to avoid the cost of transporting large steel or precast concrete structures.
It could also support taller towers that are able to harvest the stronger winds at higher altitudes. Now, towers built of steel or precast concrete are typically limited to under 100m in height because the width of the base cannot exceed the 4.5m diameter required for transport by road without incurring excessive additional costs.
GE began investigating printed towers in 2019, creating a prototype 10-metre-high section.
Supported by a grant from the US Department of Energy, the Bergen facility is the first of its kind in the US, GE said.
A team of 20 people will conduct the research, with first use in the field expected within five years.
Cobod said the printer can print more than 10 tons of concrete an hour, and is the first concrete printer to operate along two X-axes.
“With the multiple functions of the printer, the printer can better be described as a multifunctional construction robot than a printer,” said Henrik Lund-Nielsen, Cobod’s founder and general manager.
US Department of Energy’s deputy assistant secretary for renewable power, Alejandro Moreno, said the Biden administration’s goal of carbon free electricity by 2035 would require “vastly more wind energy capacity”.
“With American-made taller towers assembled on site we can cut costs, overcome logistical hurdles, and accelerate progress toward our goals,” he said.
According to the American Clean Power Association, there are more than 68,000 wind turbines across the country. Wind generating capacity totals 135GW, making it the fourth-largest source of electricity in the country.