Additive manufacturing (or 3D printing) is now widely used for prototyping and manufacturing across a range of industries. A recent article in Renewable Energy Magazine highlights innovative ways in which additive manufacturing is powering the renewable energy sector, particularly in respect of wind farm growth.
"Building molds for fiberglass blades and tower parts is costly and time-consuming, contributing to turbines’ high prices. 3D printing is faster and more affordable than conventional manufacturing, so as this technology has improved and companies can apply it on a large scale, it is the ideal solution", says author Emily Newton. "Manufacturers can significantly reduce end prices and enable faster wind farm growth by printing molds instead of forming them from traditional methods."
Other ways in which additive manufacturing (AM) has been revolutionising the renewable energy sector were discussed in a 2022 report by 3D Printing Industry.com. These include the design and manufacture of 3D printed wind turbine blades by GE Renewable Energy, who believes that “Additive manufacturing has the potential to bring a step-change in cost and performance competitiveness in the wind industry.”
The report also describes the use of AM for printing 30 metre wind farm tower components on site, maximising the amount of clean energy that a site can produce, but also "reducing the number of parts needing to be manufactured and transported from long distances".
GE is also "exploring ways to use the materials that will be produced in recycling blades from decommissioned wind turbines when we 3D print towers for new turbines", according to the report.
In a more recent article from 3D Printing Industry.com, 80 additive manufacturing experts forecast 3D printing trends for 2023. Dr. Vladimir Navrotsky, Additive Manufacturing Chief of Technology, Siemens Energy, thinks that "The successful application of additive manufacturing in the energy and aviation industry will be extended, and more field experience will be acquired using AM components in gas turbines", while Dr. Jeffrey Graves, President & CEO, 3D Systems says "In industrial markets, there has been a tremendous uptick in the number of manufacturers that are embracing metal AM for the production of end-use parts, particularly in the aerospace and energy markets. I believe we’ll see that activity continue".
As research into the use of 3D printing in the renewable energy sector continues, it is likely that, as well as seeing manufacturing costs fall, we will also see new ways of reducing the carbon footprint of wind farms through innovations that address transportation, installation, maintenance and end-of-life recycling of wind farm components.