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Low-energy recycling of wind turbine blades

United States – In the USA, Washington State University (WSU) has joined forces with Seattle-based Global Fiberglass Solutions Inc. (GFS) to recycle composite fibreglass material from decommissioned wind turbine blades.

The strong growth of the wind energy industry means more companies have a need for the 22 000-pound, 170-foot blades to be disposed of sustainably, explains Karl Englund, a research associate professor at WSU’s Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture. He estimates that each individual blade has an average lifespan of 18 years.

The recycling project offers an alternative to landfill as GFS reduces the blades to palm-sized pieces that WSU researchers refine by grinding and milling, processing them into new composite materials. Tests by Englund’s team have determined that the materials ‘hold up well’ compared to many wood composites. Finished product from the recycled blades serves a variety of applications, such as floor tiles and plastic road barriers.

Not wasting any energy

Supported by a grant from the US Joint Center for Aerospace Technology and Innovation, Englund stresses that ‘low-energy methods’ are used to reprocess the composite materials to create potential new products, adding that the key to creating a successful recycling operation is to keep the process economical and simple. ‘Any added energy, labour and chemicals will significantly add costs to a material that is already considered a waste product,’ he says.

Recycling wind turbine blades is tricky, but Englund says: ‘I definitely like a challenge!’

 

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