Wind energy has the potential to dramatically reduce the world’s dependence on carbon-emitting energy sources, and governments across the globe are racing to develop new wind power facilities amid efforts to curb global warming.
But setting up a wind farm isn’t just a matter of putting up a windmill here or there; they can comprise hundreds of turbines across farmland or sea, and the turbines themselves can be hundreds of feet tall — and are likely to only get taller in the future.
The logistics of getting those systems’ components into place present an enormous challenge, but industrial conglomerate GE hopes a newly unveiled facility could provide a solution. The company says the complex outside Rochester, New York, is the first of its kind in the U.S.: a research and development center that includes the world’s largest 3D concrete printer — three stories tall — capable of churning out more than 10 tons of concrete per hour.
The facility, funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, will be staffed by a team of 20 who will work to optimize its printing technology before taking it out into the field, hopefully within five years.
Ultimately, GE wants to be able to take its massive concrete-printing system on the road so that it can print the concrete bases to support wind turbines — up to 65 feet high — on-location, rather than hauling them over hundreds or thousands of miles. GE officials said that in addition to the obvious benefits for logistics and shipping, the technology could also be a vital source of high-tech jobs in the nation’s rural communities.
COBOD, a Danish construction 3D printing firm and a partner with GE on the project, said the machine was less a 3D printer than a “multi-functional construction robot.”