Repurposing Used Wind Turbine Blades

Repurposing Used Wind Turbine Blades

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Wind vitality has soared in recognition within the final couple of many years. Today, 8.4% of the total energy consumed within the United States is from wind energy. With so many utility-scale wind generators being put in, it’s crucial to contemplate the sustainability of the wind vitality trade. That consists of what occurs to the wind generators when they’re decommissioned.

Wind generators are made primarily of steel and may readily be recycled into high-value items. However, the wind turbine blades are an exception. As a end result, many wind turbine blades find yourself in landfills or are incinerated as a result of they’re pricey to recycle. Unfortunately, the size of this challenge will improve dramatically worldwide as wind farms attain the top of their lifespan.

Are there alternatives to repurpose wind turbine blades that create larger worth to close by communities? The Re-Wind Network is exploring that very query. It is a collaboration between researchers within the United States, Ireland, and Northern Ireland finding out repurposing choices for wind turbine blades in quite a lot of civil engineering tasks.

Repurposing Wind Turbine Blades

Re-Wind’s fall 2021 design catalog comprises all kinds of footbridges, in addition to poles for electrical distribution and transmission strains, cellphone towers, road lights, and indicators. In addition, it options noise limitations for highways, bus shelters, glamping pods, and agricultural functions, comparable to cattle partitions and feed bunks.

“We’re exploring the potential reuse of the blades throughout structure and engineering,” mentioned Larry Bank, a member of the Re-Wind workforce.“Developing such strategies can have a optimistic impact on air high quality and water high quality by reducing a significant supply of non-biodegradable waste.”

Although the design lifetime of a wind turbine is about 20 to 30 years, the turbine blades are very sturdy and have a hole core. In truth, they can be utilized for bridges that may last more than a century.

Illustration of
Illustration of a “BladeBridge” supported by wind turbine blades on both facet. Image courtesy of The Re-Wind Network

Sample Turbine Blade Projects

There are quite a few profitable examples of repurposing wind turbine blades for playgrounds within the Netherlands, bike shelters in Denmark, and stylish garden and street furniture. For instance, the first pedestrian bridge was just lately put in in western Poland after a battery of engineering assessments. In County Cork, Ireland, wind turbine blades are used to make pedestrian bridges in a brand new greenway challenge.

Other Possible Repurposing Options

Further analysis is required to check and standardize the usage of wind turbine blades in quite a lot of helpful functions. The Re-Wind workforce is even analyzing the usage of turbine blades for constructing inexpensive housing, particularly for sturdy roofing materials.

“One of the primary issues we checked out was chopping up these blades into items that may very well be given at no cost or for very low price to people in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods that may very well be utilizing them for development,” said Bank, This is especially interesting in areas susceptible to excessive climate, but blades had been designed to face up to the weather.

Streamlining the Repurposing Process

To promote the reuse of blades, it’s crucial to make it easy and cost-effective. The Re-Wind workforce is engaged on streamlining and standardizing the design course of to make it extra economical and swift. Testing sure blades for particular functions mitigates the engineering problem of repurposing blades.

Spare wind turbine blades in a field of wind turbines

Why Not Recycle the Blades Instead of Repurposing Them?

Turbine blades are tough to recycle into high-value items as a result of they’re manufactured from fiberglass and composite supplies. As a end result, recycling typically entails downcycling the fabric into low-value constructing merchandise. This strategy isn’t normally economically viable although; it typically has a better price than simply disposing of the blades.

Although it may be difficult to repurpose wind turbine blades on a big scale, it presents many benefits over recycling. Repurposing can save vitality in comparison with recycling, which will be an energy-intensive course of.

Ultimately, transitioning to truly recyclable materials will finally lower the necessity to repurpose blades, particularly as builders decommission extra wind farms. Researchers on the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have developed a light-weight blade from thermoplastic resin that appears to be recyclable. Further analysis is required, however NREL appears to be making progress.