University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center has been awarded US$2.8M by the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy to develop a rapid, low-cost additive manufacturing – 3D printing – solution for fabricating large, segmented wind blade moulds
In addition, the UMaine Composites Center will collaborate on a US$4M award to Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to apply robotic deposition of continuous reinforcing fibres in wind turbine blades.
TPI Composites and Siemens Gamesa are partnering with the UMaine Composites Center on the project. Ingersoll Machine Tools, a 3D printer manufacturer, and Techmer PM, a cellulosic-thermoplastic feedstock compounder, are also on the team, providing the ability to scale-up both equipment and feedstock production.
“Innovation in large wind blade technology is a costly and time-intensive process,” said UMaine. “Moulds and tooling for large blades can cost upwards of US$10M. The time to market of 16-20 months stifles innovation in this growing market.”
Building on more than a decade of research in nanocellulose, composites and wind blade testing, University of Maine researchers and students will apply this knowledge to additive manufacturing and hope to transform large wind blade development.
Advanced Structures and Composites Center executive director Habib Dagher said, “Very large wind blade moulds will be printed on the world’s largest polymer 3D printer using recyclable bio-based materials reinforced with wood.
“Combining cutting-edge 3D printing manufacturing with bio-based feedstocks, our team estimates that new blade development costs can be reduced by 25% to 50% and accelerated by at least six months. Moulds produced using these materials can be ground up and reused in other moulds, making them a more sustainable solution.”
UMaine is a world leader in cellulose nanofiber technology, including developing nano- and micro-cellulose reinforced thermoplastic composites. These new bio-based materials promise mechanical properties similar to aluminium at lower cost.
Carbon fibre-reinforced ABS thermoplastic feedstocks, which are widely used in large-scale 3D printing, cost more than US$5 per pound. By incorporating bio-based materials derived from wood, the cost of the feedstock can be reduced to less than US$2 per pound.
The moulds will incorporate 3D printed heating elements using a new technology developed at ORNL. Control of mould surface temperatures is a critical mould manufacturing requirement. The new ORNL technology enables robotic deposition of heating elements, reducing mould fabrication time and cost.
The outcome of the research could be to transform mould production as an enabler for more rapid and more cost-effective large wind turbine blade development.