Wind turbines are plentiful out west, lined up along the highways like futuristic, noble giants, doing their work gracefully, at the whim of what mother nature provides–often quite plentifully. The positives are plentiful as well, reducing reliance on fossil fuels, offering jobs, boosting rural economies, and allowing for affordable, fixed price energy that does not have to be shipped or mined.
Erected as incredibly tall monuments to alternative energy creation, the general thought has been that they generate more power higher up, where they are catching more wind–with the biggest blades possible, turning into the wind to catch the most energy. These are fairly complicated machines that can make a lot of electricity, and can be complicated to transport and set up, but even a small wind farm can generate enough electricity for an entire community, deeming the complexities worthy.
So as wind turbines seem to be getting taller and bigger for maximum efficiency, what can they do for us on the micro level? This was answered recently at the 2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP21), as several companies collaborating on this innovation were on hand to show off their designs, which are not just exponentially smaller in size–but they are also 3D printed.
Created by Orange Silicon Valley, the Silicon Valley-based innovation center of global telecommunications company Orange; Lumenir, Inc., a Silicon Valley energy-as-service company offering low-cost, renewable energy solutions in developing countries; and Omni3D, a Poland-based 3D printer manufacturer, the micro turbines are meant to offer greater accessibility to the technology for the masses.
Obviously, hauling in a wind turbine that stands 80 meters tall is quite an endeavor, not to mention substantial expense–but what about one that is a fraction of that size, and is easy to transport, install, and make? Offering the 3D printing self-sustainability factor all around, these wind turbines are meant for urban areas, as well as those that are remote, offering energy to those who are completely without.
This design was produced out of a strong commitment to ‘radically improve’ the lives of those who do not have electricity.
“The kind of life changing impact we envision will come from business innovation, strong partners, and a focus on platforms and ecosystems rather than just a widget,” said Bryan Silbermann, CEO of Lumenir, Inc, which is a member of the United Nations Foundation’s Energy Access Practitioner Network.
Made by Omni3D, who manufactures the Factory 2.0 printer, they were able to demonstrate the use of materials which are easily attainable and affordable. For the first several prototypes of the micro-turbines, each segment of the blade, measuring half a meter, was made with ABS. The blades feature a unique design, however, with a honeycomb-like structure that is actually 93% air.
“Industrial 3D printing creates an opportunity for milling workshops to fabricate parts cheaper, faster and easier. Fabricating large ABS parts is a task that can be accomplished by only few printers in the world and we’re happy to be a part of this project,” said Konrad Sierzputowski, board member of Omni3D.
All three companies see these tiny turbines as allowing for a range of benefits. They see them as being suitable for use in areas where currently it’s not possible to use the enormous and traditional turbines. These are much more affordable and with 3D printing can be customized easily, as well as constructed quickly. They also see them as being visually appealing, offering aesthetics along with the true plus–available, less expensive electricity.