3D Printing Technology Applied To Wind Turbine Manufacturing To Solve The Problem Of Large Wind Power Transportation

- Dec 03, 2018-

3D printing technology applied to wind turbine manufacturing to solve the problem of large wind power transportation

If you've ever driven a truck over a large part of a wind turbine, you'll find that its limitations are obvious. As the blades get longer and longer, the towers are getting higher and higher, and it becomes very difficult to transport these large parts on the highway.

A California startup has come up with a solution: RCAM Technologies recently received a $1.25 million grant from the California Energy Commission (CEC) to test the feasibility of manufacturing concrete towers on the wind farm through 3D printing.


At present, the average tower height of the US wind turbines is only 80 meters. RCAM Technologies, founded by Jason Cotrell from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), plans to use a 3D printing technology, reinforced concrete additive manufacturing technology, to make towers of 140 meters or more. Cotrell left the National Renewable Energy Laboratory NREL in May to seek funding to develop the technology.

With NREL's Cost of Energy (LCOE) modeling tool, the company expects a 140-meter-tall tower to increase power generation by more than 20% in areas with suitable wind-shear wind energy. By enabling the blades to capture more stable and stronger wind energy, the ultra-high tower will significantly increase the capacity factor and greatly reduce power generation costs.

According to the funding application form submitted to the California Energy Commission (CEC), RCAM Technologies believes that 3D printing technology "will make it possible to manufacture towers on the wind farm site at half the cost of traditional steel towers, in areas with lower wind speeds, It can reduce the power cost of wind power by 11%."

Digital concrete

Cotrell said in a video released by NREL: "When building a wind farm, we tend to use the highest possible wind turbines to capture wind energy resources with higher wind speeds. However, in this case, the diameter of the tower It will also become very large, greatly increasing the difficulty of road transport. 3D printing technology allows us to use an automated concrete manufacturing process to produce towers at the wind farm site, thus avoiding transportation and logistics restrictions."

Under an agreement with the California Energy Commission, RCAM Technologies will be responsible for designing the lower half of two ultra-high hybrid wind turbine towers between 140 and 170 meters high. The upper half of the tower will use a traditional tapered steel tower, while the lower half will be constructed using reinforced concrete additive manufacturing techniques. The prototype part of the concrete tower will be manufactured using a robotic arm and a 3D printer and will be tested at the University of California, Irvine.

In practice, RCAM Technologies plans to manufacture these large-diameter concrete towers at the wind farm site, either by concrete transported by standard transport vehicles or by concrete from mixing equipment such as foundation casting.

Increase the potential of capacity factor

NREL's research shows that in the Great Plains, the annual power generation capacity factor of some wind farms can exceed 50% with a tower height of 80 meters. It is well known that the application of higher towers can make wind power more economically competitive in more regions.

At a meeting of the American Wind Energy Association in May this year, NREL researchers wrote in a report on high-tower wind turbine technology, "Outside the wind belt center, the average development cost of wind power is higher than Low-cost natural gas and low-cost photovoltaic power generation, the cost of which is still decreasing."

“In order to expand the geographical scope of wind power applications, it is necessary to continuously evaluate the tower technology,” the team added. “The higher hub height significantly increases the capacity factor.”

The road to the market

Aaron Barr, senior consultant at MAKE Consulting, said in an e-mail: "After the hub height exceeds 120 meters, concrete towers have quickly become a cost-effective alternative to steel tube towers."

Barr pointed out that in Europe, concrete towers have been in use for more than a decade. However, most concrete towers are prefabricated elsewhere and shipped to the project site. RCAM technology companies can avoid many transportation restrictions by pouring concrete on site.

He added: "With on-site pouring, you can save on logistics and materials costs, and bring some of the most promising applications of current 3D printing technology to the wind power industry."

But Barr warns that 3D printing technology may increase the lifting time of wind turbines. “Special equipment and concrete curing time may greatly increase the construction period of the wind farm.” He said: “In most wind farms in the United States, if all the unit equipment has been transported to the site, the lifting speed can reach 1 unit. /Day, even faster. However, the use of on-site manufacturing of concrete towers will greatly lengthen the installation cycle, thereby increasing the cost and implementation risk of wind farm development."

Can RCAM Technologies manufacture concrete wind towers with 3-D printing technology as quickly and inexpensively as it estimates? The company will work with the Civil Engineering Laboratory at the University of California, Irvine to complete the prototype construction and testing.

As part of NREL's EnergyI-Corps program, JasonCotrell and his colleague Scott Jenne visited 75 machine builders and development companies.

“We found that another machine manufacturer is exploring a very similar technology, we are in contact with that manufacturer and look forward to working closely with it,” Cotrell said in a video released by NREL.

Cotrell confirmed in an e-mail that RCAM Technologies is discussing cooperation with several machine builders, including the company that he mentioned in the video without an open name.

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