The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy of the U.S. Department of Energy is investing $ 1 million in the research of 3D printing technology that may reduce the cost of producing wind-turbine blades by five percent, equivalent to a saving of $ 75 million last year.
The agency is working with Sandia National Laboratories, Oak Ridge National Laboratory as well as several other companies to develop a 3D printing process for the turbine blades using less material and fewer man-hours to produce. Currently, blades are manufactured using moulds designed to make about 1,000 blades or sometimes even less. These moulds cost $ 10 million each.
Jose Zayas, director of wind and water-power technologies for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, said in an interview: “Given the rapid growth of the industry, molds have to change at a higher frequency.” He further explains: “The molds themselves are a combination of composites and steel. When you’re going to make something out of a steel, you’re going to start with a big block of steel, and machine it to what you want that product to be. Additive manufacturing is the inverse of it: instead of removing, you’re adding. It starts from the bottom-up, shaped to the product that you want.”
According to Zayas, about 13,000 blades were installed in the United States last year. The 5 percent cost reduction using 3D printing technology to manufacture these blades would have saved the industry $ 75 millions last year.