The wind energy industry has succeeded in applying large-scale additive manufacturing technology to create complex blade mold sections that are made of traditional composite materials and can be bonded. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has been focused on innovative thermoplastic composites that are lighter weight, lower cost, and can be recycled at the end of a wind blade’s life. NREL and Montana State University were awarded $75,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy Water Power Technologies Office’s Water Power Laboratory Seedling Program to delve into applying these technologies to creating additively manufactured composite molds in marine energy applications.

For this project, the researchers implemented a new approach for the renewable energy industry by additively manufacturing internal molds designed to become a permanent part of the final load-bearing structure. Instead of bonding parts together in the blade, the team experimented with a continuous composite construction. printing tidal turbine blade molds in four sections and wrapping them in composite piles to eliminate points of failure.

The additively manufactured reduced-scale composite tidal turbine blade section demonstrates that single-piece construction is a viable option for the marine energy industry. Perhaps of even greater significance, the project also demonstrated that additively manufactured composite molds can serve as part of the final load-bearing structure.

Paul Murdy, a postdoctoral researcher at NREL and leader of this project, explained, “This Seedling project has roots in our previous work with wind and tidal turbine blade manufacturing. We’ve also been part of a multilab collaboration focused on advancing composite materials and coatings for marine energy applications. We saw an opportunity to combine the strengths of additive manufacturing with advanced composite materials for more efficient device prototyping. By applying this new approach to create a small-scale tidal turbine blade, we could apply our knowledge of wind system manufacturing in a new way.”