What can you do with used wind turbine blades?

Evaluation: one solution to cope with the estimated 200,000 tonnes of blade waste per yr is to make use of them for different merchandise like bridges

By Peter Deeney, UCC and Kieran Ruane, MTU

Imagine it or not, wind turbine blades do not final perpetually. They’ve a life expectancy of about 25 years as they’re uncovered to daylight, rain, wind and sometimes lightening. The character of the loading the blades obtain in service may trigger materials fatigue. When they’re now not helpful on a wind turbine, they’re very tough to recycle, so what can we do with them?

Three wind turbine blades have been utilized in Cork to make a pedestrian “Blade Bridge”. These 14m lengthy blades got here off a decommissioned Nordex 250kW turbine which was first utilized in 1994. Whereas the primary blade was examined to destruction, the opposite two changed the metal girders often positioned both aspect of a typical small bridge. This bridge was constructed and put in on the Midleton to Youghal Greenway.

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From The Verge, report on the blade bridge on the Midleton to Youghal greenway

There are millions of blades to be decommissioned in Eire within the subsequent few years. The quantities of blade materials have been estimated at 12,000 tonnes between 2026 and 2030 and 14,000 tonnes between 2031 and 2035. It’s tough to recycle this materials as a result of they’re fabricated from many parts that are fairly tough to separate.

There’s steel on the root the place the blade is hooked up to the hub and steel alongside the size working as a lightening conductor. There’s balsa wooden appearing as a really mild filler and there are coatings and paint. The principle problem is the glass fibre bolstered polymer; it’s made to be robust and secure, and to keep away from decomposition, which makes it awkward to recycle.

There are a number of methods to recycle glass fibre bolstered polymer however these strategies value extra to hold out than the recovered supplies are value. For instance, the polymer might be heated in an oxygen-free atmosphere to separate the resin which holds the fibres collectively, leaving the glass fibres. This produces an oil from the resin which can be utilized as a gasoline. The problem is that it’s costly to do that and the glass fibres after this course of are much less robust and costlier than new glass fibres. Related outcomes might be obtained utilizing solvents, which have the identical issues.

Prep work on the recycled wind turbine blades for the blade bridge

Whereas many researchers are working on bettering these strategies, there are some workable options already in use, equivalent to inserting the crushed blades in a cement kiln to exchange a few of the materials used to make cement. This can be a very low worth product which might be described as down-cycling slightly than re-cycling, and there are sensible limits to the quantity of fabric which might be handled on this approach. A better worth product could be preferable.

Probably the most imaginative and most helpful solution to cope with outdated turbine blades is to make use of them to make new merchandise, including electrical energy poles, parking shelters for bicycles, furnishings, sound deflectors alongside roads, roofs for homes and bridges. The Cork Blade Bridge is the second on the earth and was designed by Kieran Ruane who’s a part of the Re-Wind Network. It is 4m extensive and 5.5m lengthy and can be utilized by upkeep and emergency autos in addition to pedestrians and cyclists.

Blade bridges supply mild workable bridges, which might be helpful for farms and landowners in addition to for councils. Utilizing outdated turbine blades additionally gives jobs to these very elements of Eire alongside the Atlantic coast which want extra manufacturing jobs.

Placing the blade bridge into place on the greenway

The benefits to the atmosphere are many, principally avoidance of landfill, and avoidance of utilizing new supplies equivalent to metal. The glass fibre bolstered polymer may be very robust and can final for years when subjected to static or slowly utilized masses, it’s the similar type of materials which is used to make boats, airplanes and Components 1 automobiles. Decommissioned turbine blades have vital reserves of static power which is what makes them extremely reusable after their first life producing energy.

Whoever develops strategies to chop and work with these blades has an enormous potential market. It’s estimated there might be 200,000 tonnes of blade waste per yr by 2033, a scenario which is able to proceed for not less than 25 years till extra recyclable blades are the norm. Do not forget that offshore wind blades are getting greater and can want greater concepts. Eire can paved the way on this.

The circular economy answer is to make the wind turbine blades that are simpler to recycle. There are two strategies that are main the best way in the direction of that goal at current, (i) making the resin soluble in particular solvents and (ii) making the blades from thermosetting resin, in order that by making use of warmth they are often melted and reformed. The second has the benefit that enormous blades might be assembled on web site slightly than having to be transported lengthy distances.

The Re-Wind Network is funded by Cork County Council, Science Foundation Ireland, InvestNI/Department for the Economy and the National Science Foundation.

Dr Peter Deeney is a Principal Investigator and Senior Postdoctoral researcher within the Environmental Research Institute at UCC. Kieran Ruane is a lecturer within the Division of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering at MTU.

The views expressed listed here are these of the writer and don’t characterize or replicate the views of RTÉ

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