New GE facility focuses on R&D of 3D printed wind turbine towers

The wind turbine manufacturing division of GE, GE Renewable Energy, has opened a new research and development facility dedicated to 3D printing the concrete base of wind turbine towers.

The facility, located in Bergen, New York, will see GE conduct research into additively manufacturing the bottom portion of its wind turbine towers on-site at various wind farms as the firm looks to lower transportation costs and create additional employment opportunities.

“Innovation will continue to be a key driver in accelerating the energy transition,” said Danielle Merfeld, GE Renewable Energy Chief Technology Officer. “It is particularly important to continuously improve the ways we design, manufacture, transport, and construct the large components of modern wind farms.”

GE's new state-of-the-art concrete 3D printing system from COBOD. Photo via GE Renewable Energy.
GE’s new state-of-the-art concrete 3D printing system from COBOD. Photo via GE Renewable Energy.

Improving wind turbine efficiency with AM

GE has been pioneering the adoption of 3D printing within the wind energy generation field for some time, applying the technology in order to improve wind turbine efficiency and performance. The firm believes 3D printing has the potential to “bring a step-change in cost and performance competitiveness” in the wind energy sector, as the industry continues to grow at record pace

In February last year, GE Renewable Energy 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). The 3D printed turbine blade tips are slated to have several benefits, including being lighter than conventionally manufactured counterparts as well as more recyclable and cost-effective. 

A few months later, Fraunhofer IGCV and binder jet system manufacturer voxeljet announced plans to build the “world’s largest” wind turbine 3D printer, the Advance Casting Cell (ACC), for GE’s offshore Haliade-X turbine. Once complete, the printer will enable the production of large turbine components near offshore wind projects, lowering transportation costs and bringing environmental benefits. 

Aside from turbine blades, GE has also dedicated significant research into how additive manufacturing can be leveraged for the fabrication of wind turbine towers. In June 2020, GE and construction firms COBOD and LafargeHolcim announced a partnership to co-develop 3D printed “record tall” wind turbine towers. The ability to print the base on-site with a concrete 3D printer could allow for the construction of towers up to 200 meters tall, double that of conventionally built towers due to the logistical issues around transporting them by road. 

3D printed concrete wind turbine tower. Photo via GE.
A 3D printed concrete wind turbine tower. Photo via GE.

GE’s new wind turbine 3D printing facility

With its new research and development facility, GE Renewable Energy will further explore how to 3D print the concrete base of wind turbine towers on-site at wind farms. The research is partially supported by a grant from the DoE and will see a team of 20 people work to optimize the 3D printing technology. The first applications of the technology within the field are anticipated within the next five years. 

“We appreciate the support of the US Department of energy for the research we are doing here and are confident it will help make the wind farms of tomorrow even more efficient, economical, and environmentally responsible,” said Merfeld. 

The new facility is equipped with a 3D printer supplied by COBOD which is the size of a three-story building and capable of printing tower sections up to 20 meters high. With the continual development of the technology, GE plans to be able to 3D print the bottom portion of wind turbine towers on-site at wind farms in order to lower transportation costs and create more employment opportunities at the wind farms the technology will be used. 

“We are extremely proud to have delivered a completely new type of 3D concrete printer – the largest of its kind in the world – for this world-class and state-of-the-art facility,” said Henrik Lund-Nielsen, Founder and General Manager of COBOD. “The printer we have delivered is second to none: not only can it print in excess of 10 tons of real concrete per hour, but in addition, it is the first 3D concrete printer in the world with two X-axes on the printer.

“With the multiple functions of the printer, the printers can be better described as a multifunctional construction robot than a printer.”

Meanwhile, LafargeHolcim is supplying the specially-formulated concrete GE will use to 3D print the turbine towers. The firm predicts that the innovations achieved through its ongoing partnership with GE and COBOD will “help us all significantly” in our quest for net-zero. 

“Holcim has a key role to play in accelerating the transition towards clean, renewable energy,” added Edelio Bermejo, Head of Global R&D, Innovation and IP at Holcim. “We have been studying 3D printing in concrete for nearly a decade and the potential of this technology just keeps expanding. Projects that would have been impossible yesterday are now a reality.

“We are particularly proud to be part of this ambitious project with GE and COBOD where we can propose the right mixture of ink to build more efficiency wind turbines, directly on-site.”

The printhead and nozzle of the "world's largest" concrete 3D printer. Photo via GE Renewable Energy.
The printhead and nozzle of the “world’s largest” concrete 3D printer. Photo via GE Renewable Energy.

Serving the growing US wind power market

According to the American Clean Power Association (ACPA), there are more than 68,000 wind turbines generating clean, reliable power across the US. In fact, wind power is currently the fourth-largest source of electricity in the country with a capacity totaling 135 GW. 

3D Printing Industry’s interview series on 3D printing and renewable energy recently took an in-depth look at additive manufacturing within the wind energy sector with GE Renewable Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Technology Leader, Matteo Bellucci.

“Reaching the Biden administration’s ambitious goals of carbon-free electricity by 2035 and a net-zero economy by 2050 will require vastly more wind energy capacity,” said Alejandro Moreno, the DoE’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Renewable Power. “We’re proud to partner with GE Renewable Energy on this innovative 3D printing technology which has the potential to be a game-changer in how we harness this resource. 

“With American-made taller towers assembled on-site we can cut costs, overcome logistical hurdles, and accelerate progress toward our goals.”

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Featured image shows GE’s new state-of-the-art concrete 3D printing system from COBOD. Photo via GE Renewable Energy.