Research Team to Build Offshore Wind Infrastructure With 3D-Printed Concrete

A team of researchers from Purdue University teamed up with a young start-up to improve the way we are building offshore wind infrastructure, by developing a concrete mixture to use to 3D print anchors for wind turbines, traditionally manufactured by using finished steel.

Building offshore wind turbines is usually expensive and rather labor-intensive. Molding finished steel structures and shipping the parts at least 30 miles away from the coast, it takes unnecessary amounts of effort. With the help of a research team, looking for a better alternative using 3D printing technology.

A Visionary Team

A team of engineers of Purdue University is conducting research on a way to make anchors out of 3D-printed concrete, an option that isn’t only cheaper but would also improve on the current abilities of the commonly used steel anchors, allowing parts to float to a site from an onshore plant. Since conventional concrete manufacturing methods also require rather expanded efforts, creating a mold to shape the concrete into the desired structure, adding costs while also limiting design options, they turned to 3D printing.

“Offshore wind power is a nearly perfect platform for testing 3D printing,”

said Jeffrey Youngblood, a Purdue professor of materials engineering. The research will determine how gravity affects the durability of the larger-scale 3D-printed structure.

“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,”

said Jan Olek, Purdue’s James H. and Carol H. Cure Professor of Civil Engineering.

In order to extend their research capabilities, they teamed up with the start-up RCAM Technologies and started to create concrete additive manufacturing for onshore and offshore wind energy technology. Their interest in building 3D-printed concrete structures, including wind turbine towers and anchors, made them the perfect match for a collaboration.

Future Technologies for Future Energy

But 3D printing is not the only future technology the team aims to employ in their efforts to reform offshore wind infrastructure: They are also developing a method to integrate a robot arm with a concrete pump to fabricate wind turbine substructures and anchors. Previously, their research included 3D-printing cement-based material into bioinspired designs, turning out results like structures that mimic the ability of an arthropod shell in order to withstand pressure. At the moment, the group focusses their research on formulating a special concrete from a mixture of cement, sand and aggregates, to scalp up their 3D printing, looking for the right chemical admixture to control shape stability while the material is still in a fresh state. They aim to improve the understanding of the feasibility and structural behavior of 3D-printed concrete produced on a larger scale:

“The idea we have for this project is to scale up some of the bioinspired design concepts we have proven on a smaller scale with the 3D printing of cement paste and to examine them on a larger scale,”

said Mohamadreza “Reza” Moini, a Ph.D. candidate in civil engineering at Purdue.

Powering the Future

3D printing has already worked its way into the power sector. Industry giants like Siemens, GE, Rosatom and Westinghouse have already implemented the technology for their wind turbines and it could even improve on traditional screen-printing techniques for solar power. For wind energy, the combination of additive manufacturing and 3D printing will continue to boot the industry and simplify manufacturing.

Seeing our industry’s future technologies used to help the development of other technologies that will shape the future, always leaves us excited and stunned. Which future technology are you keeping an eye on?