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GE Unveils New 3D Printer to Build Wind Turbine Towers On Site

April 21, 2022 by Dan McCue
GE Unveils New 3D Printer to Build Wind Turbine Towers On Site
3D-printed wind tower base section. Credit: GE Renewable Energy

BERGEN, N.Y. — When it comes to wind power turbines, taller really is better. But size dramatically escalates the cost of projects while making some almost logistically impossible.

Researchers at GE Renewable Energy recently came up with a solution — creating a 3D printer that can be deployed at a wind farm location and used to literally print the bottom portion of the turbine’s supporting tower on site.

“Innovation continues to be a key driver in accelerating the energy transition,” said Danielle Merfeld, GE Renewable Energy’s chief technology officer, at a ribbon cutting at the company’s research facility in Bergen, New York.

“It is particularly important to continuously improve the ways we design, manufacture, transport and construct the large components of modern wind farms,” she said.


The Biden administration believes the project could open the door to the development of scores of new wind energy installations across the United States. That’s why the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy awarded GE Renewable Energy $5 million in 2020 to advance the development of the technology.

Today, wind power supplies about 9% of overall U.S. electricity generation, with an installed capacity of more than 120 GW. With taller towers, project developers will be able to access higher speed winds, and that, EERE officials say, will help greatly expand low-cost wind energy in the highly populated regions of the U.S. east of the Mississippi River.

Building a taller tower involves integrating the pedestal it sits on with the turbine foundation. 

GE’s printable pedestal and other stackable sections can reach heights above 65 feet, helping increase the height of the hub to above 460 feet — about double the height from 20 years ago. 

For those unfamiliar with wind energy terminology, the hub holds the blades in place and connects the blades to the main shaft.

Installing taller wind towers makes economic sense, because taller towers capturing more wind drives down the costs for each installation, lowers the overall cost of energy, and leads to lower electricity costs for consumers. 


Printing them on site solves the problem of transporting huge towers to places that don’t have access to railways or roadways that can handle large trucks, and it offers potential to capture more wind energy in more places. 

Wind is already cost-competitive in many parts of the United States, at about 2-3 cents per kilowatt-hour, but the Department of Energy wants to cut the cost of wind energy in half by 2030.

With the new research facility, GE Renewable Energy is working to make tower components and additive manufacturing operations more sustainable. 

In future years the company is hoping to achieve a 15%-30% reduction in the amount of carbon-intense concrete and rebar used to build tower foundations. 

Cement production alone accounts for 7% of global CO2 emissions, which is a huge portion for a single contributor. And it’s inherently hard to decarbonize, so anything that can be done to reduce the use of concrete in all manner of large-scale projects is considered incredibly important. 

Researchers at the facility are also working to perfect using recycled wind turbine blades as a raw material input for the additive concrete, with the goal of pursuing an additive concrete formula that is fully recyclable, further reducing carbon emissions.

Among the additional benefits of 3D printing concrete at the installation is that the height of the tower sections can be customized for different installations and locations. 

“Reaching the Biden administration’s ambitious goals of carbon-free electricity by 2035 and a net-zero economy by 2050 will require … more wind energy capacity,” said Alejandro Moreno, the deputy assistant secretary for renewable power at the Energy Department.

“We’re proud to partner with GE Renewable Energy on this innovative 3D-printing technology, which has the potential to be a game changer in how we harness this resource,” he said. 


“With American-made taller towers assembled on site, we can cut costs, overcome logistical hurdles and accelerate progress toward our goals.”

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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