GE Renewable Energy, three-dimensional (3D) construction printing company Cobod and building materials and solutions provider LafargeHolcim have partnered to co-develop wind turbines with optimised 3D printing concrete bases and which reach record heights of up to 200 m.
The three partners will undertake a multiyear collaboration to develop this solution, which will increase renewable energy production while lowering the levelised cost of energy (LCOE) and optimising construction costs.
The partners will ultimately produce a wind turbine prototype with a printed pedestal, and a production-ready printer and materials range will help to scale-up production.
The first prototype, a 10-m-high tower pedestal, was successfully printed in October 2019 in Copenhagen, Denmark.
By exploring ways to economically develop taller towers that capture strong winds, the partners aim to generate more renewable energy per turbine. Through building on each partner’s expertise, the collaboration aims to accelerate the access to and use of renewable energy worldwide.
GE Renewable Energy contributes to the design, manufacture and commercialisation of wind turbines; whereas Cobod will focus on the robotics automation and 3D printing aspects of the collaboration. LafargeHolcim, meanwhile, will design the tailor-made concrete material, its processing and application.
Commenting on the process, LafargeHolcim research and development head Edelio Bermejo says concrete 3D printing is a “very promising technology” for the company owing to its design flexibility, which “expands the realm of construction possibilities”.
“Being both a user and promoter of clean energy, we are delighted to be putting our material and design expertise to work in this groundbreaking project, enabling cost efficient construction of tall wind turbine towers and accelerating access to renewable energy,” he enthuses.
Cobod International founder Henrik Lund-Nielsen, meanwhile, comments that the company’s 3D printing technology, combined with the competence and resource of its partners, marks a “disruptive move within the wind turbines industry that will help drive lower costs and faster execution times, to benefit customers and lower the carbon dioxide footprint from the production of energy”.
Additionally, large format additive manufacturing will bring disruptive potential to the wind industry, says GE Renewable Energy advanced manufacturing technology leader Matteo Belluci.
He adds that “concrete printing has advanced significantly over the last five years, and [GE Renewable Energy] believes [it] is getting closer to having real application in the industrial world”.
Traditionally built in steel or precast concrete, wind turbine towers have typically been limited to a height of under 100 m, as the width of the base cannot exceed the 4.5 m diameter that can be transported by road, without excessive additional costs.
Printing a variable height base directly on site with 3D-printed concrete technology will enable the construction of towers up to between 150 m and 200 m tall.
Typically, a 5 MW turbine at 80 m generates 15.1 GWh/y.
In comparison, the same turbine at 160 m would generate 20.2 GWh/y, or more than 33% extra power, according to the companies.