GE Renewable Energy is to test a full-size turbine blade tip manufactured using 3D printing. It believes other parts of wind turbine blades could also be 3D printed in due course
In January 2021, the company formed a partnership with the US Department of Energy to 3D-print wind turbine blade tips. The last 10 m to 15 m of a modern blade captures 40% of the energy that spins the turbine.
The focus of the 25-month, US$6.7M project will be a full-size blade tip made from a low-cost thermoplastic skin reinforced with a 3D-printed, skeleton-like structure.
GE and its partners, Oakridge National Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, will test the structural properties of one tip in a lab and install another three tips on a wind turbine.
GE has been looking at a step change in the way it manufactures blades, integrating 3D-printed technology with other advanced processes such as thermoforming, automation and thermoplastic materials for several years.
The company and LM Wind Power, the GE Renewable Energy subsidiary that makes blades for onshore and offshore turbines, will use the grant to bring the technologies to industrial scale.
LM Wind Power senior director of advanced technology systems Torben Jacobsen said, “At the moment, turbine blades are made of glass and carbon fibre embedded in an epoxy or polyester resin to form a strong composite material.
“Blade tips 3D-printed from advanced lighter thermoplastic composites could bring several benefits. Lighter blade tips could allow larger rotors on turbines to generate more power. They would also ease the strain on the entire turbine, reducing wear and tear on gearboxes, drivetrains, bearings and the turbine foundation, thus lowering overall lifecycle costs.
“As the cost of producing and maintaining wind turbines falls, and their efficiency increases, the overall cost of electricity will fall as well. 3D-printed thermoplastic blade tips could also be melted down and recycled when they end service, another important goal LM Wind Power is pursuing.”
GE Renewable Energy technology innovation leader Matteo Belluci said, “Additive manufacturing can bring about a step change in cost and performance competitiveness and help GE’s customers drive the energy transition farther and faster.”