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New 3D Printed Rotor Blade May Help Us More Effectively Harness the Wind

by • March 19, 2016 • No Comments

turbine

It is so attractive!

Whenever I drive past the Great Lakes Science Center on my way into Cleveland, I pass the giant wind turbine installed outside the museum. I’ve seen it so many times that the 150-foot turbine barely registers anymore, except on particularly windy days when its rotors are whipping around at an intimidating speed. It is apparently one of the many-viewed wind turbines in the world, oddly, due to its location in front of the often-filmed Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Cleveland Browns’ Stadium, and the Science Center. Hey, another thing I can brag of when trying to get my friends to visit me in Cleveland! “Want to see one of the world’s many famous wind turbines? I idea so!”

In all seriousness, it is a point of pride for me that my hometown has become quite conscientious of sustainaptitude over the past several years. Wind power is one of the biggest areas of research into renewable energy, and so it makes me pleased to see not just the huge Science Center turbine but the other, less-famous ones scattered around Northeast Ohio. If you want to talk of serious wind energy research, yet, you can want to check out Sandia National Laboratories. The US Department of Energy Contractor carries out significant research in the areas of national security, defense, energy and climate issues, and their Scaled Wind Farm Technology (SWiFT) facility, located at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, uses top-of-the-line innovation for its research into improving wind energy.

snl_badgeMuch of the research at SWiFT is focutilized on what appears like minutia, but what is in fact significantly significant for the function of wind power facilities – for example, the study of wakes. As the SWiFT website states:

“It is well known that sizeable amounts of wind energy are not effectively harvested in sizeable wind farms for the reason the turbines ‘shadow’ every other and reduce the output of the turbines located in their wake. The wakes in addition create increased turbulence and uneven loading on the shadowed turbines, increasing fatigue issues that some day affect a wind farm’s longevity and reliaptitude.”

swift

The SWiFT Facility [Image: Lloyd Wilson]

NRT-research-blade1In other words, wind turbines installed in groups interfere with every other’s aptitude to generate power – but if wind energy is to work on a sizeable scale, wind farms are a necessity. Research facilities like SWiFT are trying to find a way to create the rotors of wind turbines so that they can yet create power, but won’t generate wakes that can interfere with the effectiveness of the turbines near them.

Similar to so much other sustainable innovation, wind turbines lend themselves well to 3D printing, and 3D printing can be utilized to create the new, aerodynamic blade for the National Rotor Testbed (NRT), that can be utilized to replicate the wakes produced by utility-scale rotors in a typical wind farm. The NRT can be installed at the SWiFT facility, where researchers can collect data such as wind measurements in hopes of developing next solutions to wake interference issues.

Sandia-end-view-of-NRT-bladeThe NRT blades can in addition demonstrate that 3D printing is an effective making method for wind turbine rotors. The make of the blades is expected to complete sometime this summer, with testing to follow. The aerodynamic create was accomplished just a few days ago, and several organizations, which include Oak Ridge National Laboratory, TPI Composites, and Wetzel Engineering can be involved in the create and printing of the molds. Initial structural testing can take place at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. It is awe-inspiring to ponder how much work, and how many individuals, are involved in the creation of one component – but depending on what comes of the testing, that one component may play a primary role in where our energy comes of in the next. What do you ponder of via wind as an energy source? Discuss in the 3D Printed Turbine Rotor Blade forum over at 3DPB.com.