Honors Gallery

Successful Collaboration Accelerates Testing of New Blade Designs

Award: Technology Focus

Year: 2018

Award Type: National

Sandia National Laboratories (SNL)

Testing new wind turbine blade designs is extremely expensive and time-consuming due to the multimillion dollar and multi-month investment required to construct the complex molds needed to manufacture the blades.

Sandia National Laboratories wanted to test a new subscale wind turbine blade design as part of the National Rotor Testbed project, which is developing an open source wind blade that can be used by researchers at Sandia and other public and private institutions to discover new wind technologies.

To accomplish these goals, Sandia partnered with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), which has expertise in additive manufacturing and the largest commercially available polymer 3D printer in the world, and corporate partner TPI Composites, which has experience with wind turbine blade design and manufacturing. Additionally, the team received assistance from two Department of Energy offices and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to prove the viability of additive manufacturing to shorten the time and reduce the cost of producing prototype blades.

Since short production runs for wind blade prototypes are cost-prohibitive, innovation is stifled. The goal was to see if this novel design-build approach could be economically feasible not only for subscale research blades, but also potentially for full-size commercial blades.

This partnership brought together expertise from labs and industry to quickly go from concept to demonstration through a highly cooperative team.

Now that it is being tested on subscale blades, this new method for creating wind blade molds is also attracting interest from companies like Ingersoll Machine Tools, Inc., which would like to build larger 3D printers to accommodate the needs of the large-scale tooling industry. The company can see how additive manufacturing will make it easier to produce new designs and make changes more quickly.

Together, national laboratories and industry partners are coming up with new ways to lower the cost of wind energy and accelerate the deployment of new wind energy technologies directly to the industry. By marrying Sandia’s blade design capabilities with ORNL’s 3D printing capabilities, NREL’s blade structural testing capabilities, and the worldwide commercial design and manufacturing capabilities of wind blade manufacturer TPI, the team was able to build an innovative wind turbine blade accurately, quickly, and cost-effectively to accelerate new wind energy technologies from concept to market.

Contact: David Minster, (505) 284-3082, [email protected]