Turbine towers of up to 200-metres that are produced on site using 3D printing technology could send onshore wind to new heights and boost power generation by a third, claimed a new partnership developing the technology that includes GE Renewable Energy.

The wind OEM giant is part of a collaboration aiming to use latest additive manufacturing techniques to make larger bases able to support taller hybrid towers, which would allow turbines to tap the better winds high-up and remove the logistical obstacles currently facing deployment of the massive components.

The group – which also includes materials group LafargeHolcim and 3D printing specialist COBOD – said it’s already successfully printed a 10-metre tower pedestal, and now aims to move to a “production-ready” printer and materials.

Towers are generally limited to heights of around 100 metres by a base with a maximum width of 4.5-metres that can be cost-effectively transported by road, said a statement announcing the partnership.

“Printing a variable height base directly on-site with 3D-printed concrete technology will enable the construction of towers up to 150 to 200-metres tall,” it added.

“Typically, a 5MW turbine at 80-metres generates, yearly, 15.1GWh. In comparison, the same turbine at 160-metres would generate 20.2 GWh, or more than 33% extra power,” it was claimed.

A 200-metre tower would surpass the 175-metre cable-stayed design deployed by Vestas in Finland and a 164-metre hybrid operating in Germany.

The world’s most powerful wind turbine, the 12MW GE Haliade-X offshore machine, has a hub-height of 150 metres.

Matteo Bellucci, advanced manufacturing technology leader for GE Renewable Energy, said: “We believe that Large Format Additive Manufacturing will bring disruptive potential to the Wind Industry. Concrete printing has advanced significantly over the last five years and we believe is getting closer to have real application in the industrial world.”

Upwards trend

Deployments at the scale envisaged by GE would accord with an upward trend for turbine heights as the industry moves to more powerful machines.

US data from early 2019, for example, showed developers proposed turbine 'tip heights', from foot of tower to top of blade, up to a record 207 metres (680 feet) versus an average 146 metres for 2018 installations.

But super-high deployments at inappropriate sites can also raise the risk of opposition. There were ferocious protests late last year in Hawaii over the deployment of turbines with 105-metre hub heights.