Wind turbines could be built using 3D printed concrete say researchers

Purdue University is researching a way to make offshore wind turbines out of 3D-printed concrete. The new technique will allow the use of a less expensive material that can be floated out to site from an onshore construction plant.

According to a statement out this week from the university: “Building (traditional steel) wind turbines offshore is expensive, requiring parts to be shipped at least 30 miles away from the coast.

“Conventional concrete manufacturing methods also require a mold to shape the concrete into the desired structure, which adds to costs and limits design possibilities.

“3D-printing would eliminate the expenses of this mold.”

The researchers are working in collaboration with RCAM Technologies, a startup founded to develop concrete additive manufacturing for onshore and offshore wind energy technology, and the Floating Wind Technology Company (FWTC).

RCAM Technologies and the FWTC have an interest in building 3D-printed concrete structures including wind turbine towers and anchors.

“Purdue’s world-class capabilities and facilities will help us develop these products for offshore products for the U.S. Great Lakes, coastal and international markets,” says Jason Cotrell, CEO of RCAM Technologies.

“Our industry also needs universities such as Purdue to provide the top-quality university students for our workforce needs for these cutting-edge technologies.”

The work also is funded by the National Science Foundation INTERN program.

The team is developing a method that would involve integrating a robot arm with a concrete pump to fabricate wind turbine substructures and anchors.

This project is a continuation of the team’s research on 3D-printing cement-based materials into bio-inspired designs, such as ones that use structures mimicking the ability of an arthropod shell to withstand pressure.

The group’s current research involves scaling up their 3D printing by formulating a special concrete – using a mixture of cement, sand and aggregates, and chemical admixtures to control shape stability when concrete is still in a fresh state.

“Offshore wind power is a nearly perfect platform for testing 3D printing,” says Jeffrey Youngblood, a Purdue professor of materials engineering.

The goal is to understand the feasibility and structural behavior of 3D-printed concrete produced on a larger scale than what the team has previously studied in the lab.

“The idea we have for this project is to scale up some of the bio-inspired design concepts we have proven on a smaller scale with the 3D printing of cement paste and to examine them on a larger scale,” says Mohamadreza “Reza” Moini, a Ph.D. candidate in civil engineering at Purdue.

The researchers will determine how gravity affects the durability of the larger-scale 3D-printed structure.

The scaling up research could also be applied to optimizing and reinforcing structures in general.

“Printing geometric patterns within the structure and being able to arrange the filaments through or playing around with distribution of the steel are both possibilities we have considered for optimizing and reinforcing the structures,” says Jan Olek, Purdue’s James H. and Carol H. Cure Professor of Civil Engineering.

Research is being conducted in the Robert L. and Terry L. Bowen Laboratory for Large-Scale Civil Engineering Research.

The boffins think that the potential for 3D concrete is huge in this sector. “Wind off the coasts of the U.S. could be used to generate more than double the combined electricity capacity of all the nation’s electric power plants,” the university statement says.

Purdue University is ranked as the No. 6 Most Innovative University in the United States by U.S. News & World Report. For more on the univeristy, please to www.purdue.edu 

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