- The California Energy Commission has awarded a $1.25 million grant to RCAM Technologies to develop and test 3-D printing technology so concrete turbine towers can be constructed onsite, reported Greentech Media.
- The company wants to erect 140-meter-tall towers, which could increase electricity production by more than 20% compared with standard 80-meter-high towers that must be transported to sites.
- RCAM Technologies will design the lower half of two 140- to 170-meter-tall hybrid turbine towers; the upper half still will employ traditional tapered steel. The prototypes, which a robotic arm and 3-D printer will fabricate, will be tested at the University of California, Irvine.
In 2013, researchers at Iowa State University asserted concrete towers would be ideal mediums for wind turbines because of their ability to reach greater heights than steel, thereby allowing the turbines to access more powerful winds. But the ability to install ultra-tall towers has been hampered by the challenges of transporting such massive parts via roads.
Wind power is a growing market. The industry has seen $143 billion of investment during the past decade and created more than 100,000 jobs. The American Wind Energy Association reports there were 84,944 megawatts of installed wind capacity through the third quarter of 2017, and 29,634 megawatts under development.
One such project is the Xcel Energy 300-turbine wind farm in Colorado, which Mortenson Construction started building in May. It should be complete in the fall of 2018. Xcel Energy also is spearheading two wind farms in Minnesota.
Although wind turbine towers are a huge job for 3-D printing, the technology has been expanding. Europe recently completed its first 3-D printed building in Copenhagen, which came on the heels of the Netherlands debuting the world's first 3-D printed concrete bridge. The 26-foot-long structure is intended for cyclists and comprises 800 layers of reinforced, pre-stressed concrete.
The printing method is even expanding beyond the confines of Earth. In 2014, NASA astronauts, in partnership with Made In Space and NanoRacks, installed a 3-D printer at the International Space Station to test-print satellite components. Meanwhile, NASA's Centennial Challenge, now in its third phase, is a 3-D printed habitat competition that asks participants to create technology that could develop shelters on Mars.