As fast as old wind turbine blades are becoming a recycling problem, there are solutions being presented to solve it.
In Ireland, used wind turbine blades are being repurposed to build bridges, reinforce concrete, and are being proposed as potential highway noise barriers and coastal wake walls.
The first generation of wind farms are retiring their turbine blades. Cast from a fixture of plastic and fiberglass, they are essentially unrecyclable. Their predicted waste in tonnage is expected to reach 2 million by 2050.
However the fiberglass they’re made up is a valuable material used to make things strong and light, and reusing them as raw materials means less new fiberglass needs to be produced. Furthermore, as next generation blades look to increase size, strength, and lifespan, manufacturers are switching from fiberglass to carbon fiber.
The situation is perfect for innovative uses to remove a problem permanently, as next generation carbon fiber blades will be more recyclable.
Enter University College Cork in Ireland, and their plan to build a bridge out of old wind turbine blades. That can only be a good thing, as the Emerald Isle will get weighed down by 11,000 tons of decommissioned blades over the next 4 years.
The bridge will span the Middleton-Younghal Greenway, a nature cycling and walking path.
“The blades are from a decommissioned Nordex N29 turbine, 14 meters long,” said Paul Leahy, lecturer in wind energy engineering to Euro News. “For this bridge, which has a span of 5m, we cut a short section from the blade. The blades are used as the main structural element of the bridge and are functional in the design.”
“However, they are also aesthetically attractive due to their gently curved shape, so we believe this will become a feature of interest on the greenway route. We are also looking at additional repurposed blade products such as outdoor furniture.”
UCC is working with schools in the States on the “Re-Wind” project—which aims to employ old blades for other uses, such as coastal wake barriers to protect soils from erosion, or to build electrical transmission towers.
Another blade recycling initiative is to use them as part of the UK’s developing high-speed rail network built by Skanska Costain Strabag.
Using the blades to reinforce concrete for various infrastructure constructions such as access roads, project developers say this should help cut carbon costs by 90%.