Additive Manufacturing Applications: Energy Industry
Additive manufacturing is being used in the conventional power generation, nuclear energy, wind energy, and solar energy industries.
Conventional Power Generation
- Companies are experimenting with additive manufacturing for quick manufacture of prototypes and part replacement.
- The US Department of Energy has been supporting the progress of 3D printing for usages in conventional energy.
- In July 2018, 15 R&D projects were selected by the DOE.
- The government funded these projects, and they all aim to create various new technologies for fossil-fueled power systems.
- One of these projects, by DNV GL, involves the development of computational support tools that optimize novel material combinations for fabricating microchannel heat exchangers via additive manufacturing for supercritical CO2 power cycle technology, in hopes of obtaining new options for materials with property gradients for the fossil power industry.
- United Technologies Research Center, on the other hand, is planning to find new ways to apply “computational methods and tools to microstructure evolution and mechanical evolution.”
- These are usually used for the manufacturing of superalloy parts for turbine engines.
Companies using it:
- Siemens produced a 3D printed metal replacement part for an industrial steam turbine in April 2018.
- This was considered to be the first of its kind.
- In 2017, the company finished its first full-load engine tests for their gas turbine blades.
- This was done through the use of additive manufacturing technology.
- Additionally, the company is currently developing additive manufacturing solutions for multiple blades turbine vanes, burner nozzles, and radial impellers.
- They also successfully 3D-printed and engine tested a complex combustion component for its aero-derivative gas turbine, the SGT-A05.
- The dry low emission (DLE) pre-mixer, also known as a burner chamber or flame holder, was produced using Siemens’ printable nickel-based superalloys.
- The component that usually requires 20 parts and casting and assembly methods required only two parts with additive manufacturing, reducing its lead time by an estimated 70%.
- With tight tolerances and functionality in high load and high-temperature environments, the DLE pre-mixer successfully performed fuel transitions, CO emissions reductions were realized, and full power was achieved with no measurable combustion dynamics or noise.
- 3D printing the DLE pre-mixer also improved the geometry of the component, allowing a better fuel-air mix.
- GE also believes that 3D printing is a disruptor in the energy industry because it sent out about 9,000 3D printed gas turbine components.
- Additionally, GE is using the same technology for its HA-class gas turbines.
- Furthermore, the nozzle helped the company push the efficiency of the turbines to 64%, and the company is currently aiming to reach an efficiency of 65%.
- In 2018, GE announced the world’s first upgrade with additive manufactured components for GT13E2 gas turbines– the new MXL2 with Additive Manufactured Performance (AMP).
- The technology is predicted to save $2 million in annual fuel consumption for the company.
- Additionally, it is expected to increase the company’s revenues by $3 million because of this new power capacity.
- According to Siemens, 3D printing is a game-changer, since it can reduce the lead time for producing parts.
- Vladimir Navrotsky, Chief Technology Officer for Siemens Power Generation Services, Distributed Generation stated that “additive manufacturing is revolutionizing our industry, delivering measurable benefits and real value to our customers, particularly as they look to reduce emissions further to meet environmental targets.”
- GE believes in 3D printing’s ability to enhance the efficiency of turbines.
- Scott Strazik, president of GE’s Power Service Business, declared that “We’re continuing to invest in new technologies to keep our installed base competitive: the new MXL2 with AMP upgrade could not be manufactured with conventional methods and marks the first-of-its-kind solution with the injection of components manufactured by additive technologies.”
- AM can use, within the Nuclear Energy Industry, for design flexibility, the advancement of new materials, certifying and qualifying new parts and embedding sensors for real-time monitoring.
- More significant components, such as pressure vessels for small modular reactors, could use advanced methods—like powder metallurgy hot isostatic pressing and electron beam welding (welding at the molecular level)—to reduce the cost and schedule of manufacturing.
Companies using it:
- In February 2018, Rosatom, a Russia’s state-owned nuclear power utility, established a company for the development of additive manufacturing technologies, Rusatom – Additive Technologies or RusAT.
- The company has already developed a pre-production prototype of a Gen II 3D printer.
- Its commercial production is scheduled for 2019.
- In March 2017, Siemens used nuclear energy for their 3D printed impeller for a fire protection pump located in the Krško nuclear power plant in Slovenia.
- Furthermore, the existing technology has obsolete parts which are no longer available in the market, which can be used in old power plants to continue their operations.
- Westinghouse is also using binder-jetting additive manufacturing to cut costs and cut short the lead times for parts that are difficult to obtain.
- According to Rosatom, additive manufacturing technology has many advantages.
- First of all, it is a complex product form that is impossible to get by mechanical processing or casting, the unique combination of materials (e.g., metal and ceramics), significant reduction of the item weight and prototype production time.
Wind Energy Industry
- The Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO) of the US Department of Energy has started to print molds for blades with AM technologies.
- The Blade design usually requires the creation of a plug that will be used to create the mold.
- This process is considered to be one of the most time-consuming and labor-intensive processes in wind blade construction.
- It is claimed that 3D printing can lessen the use of critical resources in this given process.
- The US Department of Energy’s Wind Program and Advanced Manufacturing Office has partnered with public and private organizations to apply AM in the production of wind turbine blade molds.
- However, AM can mean fewer sub-components, but it will also be possible to design the part in one place and then send its schematics for 3D printing in different locales so that it can be closer to where it is needed.
Companies using it:
- Blade manufacturer LM Wind Power uses AM for fast prototyping.
- GE and Vestas are focusing on developing new material within AM.
- GE and Vestas are looking into building network locations around the world, offering additive production.
- According to Vestas, “with more than 68GW under service and turbines installed in 75 countries, often in remote areas, a technology to produce and distribute spare parts locally could potentially help reduce cost and downtime on our customers’ turbines.”
- Sandia, collaborating with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and TPI Composites is developing prototype blades as part of an effort to research wind plant performance.
- With more large 3D printers becoming available in the marketplace, TPI is evaluating the feasibility of using 3D printing not only for producing molds for subscale blade prototypes but perhaps also for larger-scale blade manufacturing.
- AM can speed up part and component development time by up to 75%, reduce material resources by up to 65%, and reduce gas emissions by up to 30%.
- A single part can be manufactured in one step, not requiring a secondary joining process and additive manufacturing can also be used in the repair of components.
- AM could enable in-site manufacture of turbine components that are designed to fit a location and its special needs, which would decrease the shipping, transportation and handling costs and increase the rate at which new blade prototypes can be tested.
- 3D printed solar panels are considered to be light-and-thin panels that can be easily transported, and because of its features, it reduces the chances of it being damaged.
- Reducing the weight reduces the difficulties linked to transport, which in turn make it easier to implant in developing countries.
- The CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization) is reported to be using industrial 3D printers to print rolls of solar cells.
- The Australians scientists succeeded in creating A3 sheets of solar cells, that can be used on any surfaces such as windows or building. These are functional and efficient solar panels.
- The technology is still in its infancy.
Companies using it:
- Simusolar, a company planning to start the use of solar energy in Tanzania, is developing a small-scale sustaining solution that could help the locals.
- The company is using 3D printing because solar panels require custom-made parts.
- Kyung-In Synthetic created solar panels with 3D printing technology to provide solar electricity in remote areas.
- These 3D printed solar panels use perovskite solar cells, which improves in performance every year.
- It is estimated that these solar cells can create more than one year of full performance without losing any efficiency.
- MIT researchers claim that applications of additive technology in solar panels could reduce manufacturing cost by “50% with 20% increase in efficiency compared to traditional solar panels.”
- Further research is being made with Perovskite to improve the panel efficiency.