A new report from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) suggests that advanced manufacturing and materials could be the key to modernizing the US hydropower industry.

While the industry currently generates 32% of all US renewable energy, traditional manufacturing processes have hindered its ability to keep up with surging energy demand and rising material costs, the report suggests. To address these challenges, ORNL brought together representatives from the hydropower industry, advanced manufacturing industries, research institutions, and environmental groups to assess the potential for advanced manufacturing to enhance the industry's existing fleet and design new approaches to hydropower.

The report, which identifies infrastructure challenges and ways in which advanced manufacturing could improve performance, reduce reliance on foreign manufacturing, and better address environmental concerns, provides a roadmap for the industry's future success.

“Hydropower has enormous potential in securing a cleaner, more sustainable energy future,” said ORNL’s Mirko Musa. “We can build upon its success, layer by layer.”

The report recommends the adoption of advanced manufacturing techniques such as 3D printing and novel component coatings to improve system and component performance. It also suggests exploring new design capabilities to help the industry adapt to changing energy demand and supply chain challenges.

By embracing advanced manufacturing, the hydropower industry has the potential to remain a significant player in the renewable energy landscape for years to come, the report suggests.

Image: This newly manufactured fixed guide vane of a hydropower turbine system was printed at the DOE Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL. Credit: Genevieve Martin/ORNL, U.S Dept. of Energy