How does 3D printing help power the world?

Last updated on 28 Aug, 2020

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3D printing for energy

3D printing for energy

3D printing reshapes the way we produce energy. Solar panels, wind turbines, nuclear reactors: See how this technology fits all energy industries.

How would 3D Printing help make more viable ways to produce and store energy? As developments in the Energy industry forge ahead, whether for more sustainable energy sources or for better ways to tap natural resources, Additive Manufacturing is being explored to bring new solutions to our processes.

Why is this technology seen as an asset to help the Energy industry move forward? Let’s go over the advantages that 3D Printing can bring and some of the greatest projects achieved in that area.

About 3D Printing for Energy

The parts we are addressing here are the components used to produce energy conversion devices; that’s to say systems meant to transform one form of energy into another. This type of equipment includes electricity generation technologies such as wind turbines and solar panels, as well as other conversion hardware like batteries and generators.

Other types of objects fall into 3D Printing energy projects such as scaled models and prototypes, used to improve and transform products into their full final form.

What are the advantages of 3D Printing for Energy applications?

Faster prototyping

3D Printing is the key to building prototypes faster, but also to carry out more reliable tests. With this technology, you can get a workable prototype printed in a few days and, depending on the outcome of your simulations, move on to new iterations. This quicker approach to prototyping can help refine energy projects faster, cheaper, and thereby reduce time to market.

Not just cost-efficient, but more efficient solutions

Power generation devices of all kinds can benefit from the manufacturing advantages of 3D Printing. Solar panels can, for instance, be produced with much higher precision than with other processes, which in turn reduces costly material waste. According to MIT, these savings can help drive solar panel manufacturing costs down by 50%. If the precision of Additive Manufacturing makes solar cells more affordable, it also makes them 20% more efficient at harnessing sun energy than regular solar panels, according to MIT. 

Spare parts Manufacturing

As aging models tend to be discontinued by their manufacturers, mechanical breakdowns may not be solved without replacing the entire equipment. Thanks to 3D printing, you can make up for supply-chain challenges and produce the spare parts you need on-site. With this new approach to part procurement, you can order exactly the amount you need without over-burdening your stocks with hoarded spare components.

Customizing projects to every need

While other manufacturing processes have inherent design constraints such as molds, 3D Printing allows for the best design freedom. With this potential, devices can be tailored specifically to the needs of every energy project.

Thus, Additive Manufacturing not only helps to create more complex, fine-tuned energy production systems but can also be used to develop specific plant controllers for your equipment. With this design potential, you can indeed customize casings to encapsulate components ergonomically. 

Making energy project visualization better

Additive Manufacturing doesn’t only help in prototyping and final part manufacturing. Whether for renewable energy production, storage, or for plant setup projects, 3D Printing offers effective ways to fully demonstrate your ideas with scale models and prototypes. Make authentic replicas to develop your projects upon it, alongside third parties. Companies like Shell already resort to Additive Manufacturing to make efficient scale prototypes.

The innovative energy projects 3D Printing gives ground to

3D printing wind turbines

Purdue University researchers are working along with RCAM technologies, a concrete 3D Printing company specializing in offshore and onshore wind turbine manufacturing, and the Floating Wind Technology Company, which focuses on floating wind solution design.
Together, they are pursuing a common goal of developing more cost-efficient wind turbines with 3D Printing. Indeed, regular manufacturing techniques involve high material costs for anchors. The research team is hence working on lighter and cheaper 3D printing concrete based anchors and turbine substructures, which will bring production and logistics costs down.

Making solar cells with Volumetric 3D Printing

Regular silicon solar cells pose a few problems. They need to be produced at high-temperatures, have bearings on the environment, and are expensive to manufacture, even though they remain fragile.

A company named T3DP came up with a solar cell 3D Printing process, which outperforms regular flat panels. Based on perovskite, an inexpensive semi-conductive material that can be used to manufacture solar cells at low-temperatures, this process brings manufacturing costs down. This development relies on Volumetric 3D printing and allows to shape the solar material into sturdy and stable hexagon scaffolds. 

Nuclear technologies and Additive Manufacturing

The Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation, Rosatom, is investing in Additive Manufacturing and develops its own 3D Printers. The platforms, which have already been tested successfully, are intended to create complex metal products—functioning with a selective laser melting technique, the 3D printers run with iron, cobalt, titanium, nickel, and other metal materials used for nuclear product manufacturing. Resorting to Additive Manufacturing makes the production of critical, complex parts less expensive, and can build on the properties and characteristics of nuclear products. 

3D Printed bionic corals

Corals are considered very inspiring photon management systems, capable of scattering light very efficiently. A research team from Cambridge University hence sought to replicate the complex design and functions of coral tissues with a 3D bioprinting process of its own. This achievement, which was successfully completed, can open up new developments in light-based bio-energy systems. 3D Printed bionic corals could, in that sense, be harnessed as part of a more efficient photobioreactor design.

IBM’s 3D Printed Redox flow battery

In collaboration with ETH Zurich, IBM 3D printed the first liquid battery capable of cooling and producing energy simultaneously. The researchers used electrolytes to make a micro-channel system to supply the device. The result is quite promising, as this technology allows to reduce overheating risks as well as power pumping needs.

Simusolar: Solar-powered products to support Tanzanian rural economies

Simusolar develops smallholder agricultural equipment for Tanzanian farmers, fishers, and rural residents. With products ranging from solar-powered fishing lights and pumps for agriculture, the company resorted to our services to make custom-parts, such as the electrically insulated components they add into circuit boards.

Do 3D Printing and Energy have a bright future?

As you may have noticed from the examples you have been presented with, energy industry players perceive one major asset in 3D Printing: This technology can be used to manufacture custom-made energy production devices of all kinds, and if used wisely, to reduce production costs. 

Additive Manufacturing will contribute to making power accessible to everyone, through the creation and installation of more efficient renewable energy conversion systems everywhere, even in remote areas. This perspective is especially promising for big size and towering systems, which entail high costs to be transported from their manufacturing site to their installation point. As evidence of this potential, companies like RCAM technologies demonstrate that 3D Printing can be used to achieve land-based wind turbines on-site, hence to cut out logistic costs, and to make taller structures. This new approach to energy technology manufacturing can be extended to all kinds of projects, such as solar panels, or even transportable micro-turbine production.