As part of the US DoE’s new Clean Power Plan, the department has allocated US$1m toward 3D printing research to develop cheaper wind turbine blades.The timing of the announcement compliments the “booming” wind industry in the US, with over 17.5 million homes powered by wind-generated electricity, according to www.3ders.org.
The Clean Power Plan asserted the US’s move toward greener, more renewable energy solutions like wind and solar.
Supporting the boom in the US wind sector is the fact that US consumers are paying 2.35 cents per kilowatt hour, making wind power a lot cheaper than the average price of wholesale electricity in many areas of the country.
Through the investment of US$1m in wind turbine blades, the Department of Energy aims to bring down the cost of the cost of wind-turbine blade production by a further 5%.
[quote] Jose Zayas, director of wind and water-power technologies for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, has estimated that a further 5% drop in production costs, would generate US$75 million in savings - spanning the production of 13,000 additional blades every year.
Why 3D printing?
Several organisations such as Oak Ridge National Laboratory (the US Department of Energy's largest science and energy laboratory) and Sandia National Laboratories (developer of science and technology solutions) and partners to the DoE have undertaken projects that show the effectiveness of 3D printing for large-scale projects.
Oak Ridge for example has already used 3D printing to create a 3D printed home and car that run on either solar power or natural gas.
The US$1m will go toward the production of a demonstration blade, constructed using 3D printing technology, by mid-2016. Wind turbine blades are currently produced from moulds that cost upwards of US$10 million each and are designed to last long enough to create around 1,000 blades.
The 3D printing is envisioned to be an innovative solution to a challenge where wind energy technology is often outdated before the lifespan of the moulds completes – which increases production costs.
Zayas adds that: “The moulds themselves are a combination of composites and steel. When you’re going to make something out of a steel, you’re going to start with a big block of steel, and machine it to what you want that the product to be.
"Additive manufacturing is the inverse of it: instead of removing, you’re adding. It starts from the bottom-up, shaped to the product that you want.”