The world needs energy. Those in pursuit of increasingly elusive fossil fuels must drill deeper and explore farther than ever before.
Concern over global warming means wind farms are popping up like flowers in springtime. Hydroelectric and natural gas enjoy a renaissance as the cost of non-renewable energy sources continues to rise. George Nagle, global energy strategic portfolio manager for Kennametal Inc., Latrobe, PA, says global energy demand is projected to grow by 54 per cent over the next 20 years. “The total world output by 2015 is expected to be around 22,700 TWh (terawatt hours), but by 2035, the non-OECD countries (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) by themselves will be at 21,220 TWh.”
Looked at in terms of year over year growth, renewable energy is expected to grow four times faster than fossil fuels. Some of this increase can be explained by the lower baseline of “green” energy installations when compared to non-renewable sources, but it’s clear coal at least is losing market share to cleaner burning fuels. “The dollar spend on turbines for gas-powered plants should eclipse traditional steam (coal) systems by 2019.”
This is good news for manufacturers serving the energy sector, but it’s not without challenges. Because of the need for high temperature and corrosion resistant materials, most energy parts are made from tough metals such as Inconel and 4300 series steel. And many of these parts are huge—a turbine blade for a natural gas-powered generator might span four metres in length and spin at several thousand rpm. A windmill rotor hub housing is larger than a studio apartment yet contains features best measured in microns. In short, energy parts are big, complex, and difficult to machine. You’d better have the right cutting tools if you’re going to tackle work like this.
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