The recycled blades will be turned into skis, snowboards, and construction materials for solar farms
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Spotted: In 2021, wind power accounted for 6.6 per cent of electricity generation worldwide. And in some countries wind’s share of generation is much higher. In the UK, for instance, onshore and offshore wind accounted for 24 per cent of electricity generation in 2020.
The growing prevalence of wind power is good news as the world transitions away from fossil fuels. But one downside of wind power is the fact that wind turbine blades are made of composite materials that are difficult to recycle. Now, Swedish energy company Vattenfall is looking to overcome this problem by putting its used blades to new uses.
The company has launched a pilot project with Norwegian company Gjenkraft. The project will recycle turbine blades from Vattenfall’s Irene Vorrink wind farm in the Netherlands into skis and snowboards, as well as construction materials for solar farms.
Turbine blades are made from a mixture of materials such as glass, resin, carbon fibre, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), balsa wood, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) foam, and various metals. The key challenge for turbine blade recycling is the fact that it is extremely difficult to separate this complex cocktail of components, meaning they must be processed together.
Depending on the exact type, and despite the challenges involved, Gjenkraft is able to extract glass and carbon fibres from turbine blades. Skis and snowboards are therefore perfect candidates for giving the blades a second life because they too are made using glass and carbon fibres.
Moreover, the glass and carbon fibres in turbine blades are held together by hardy duro-plastics. These duro-plastics can be used in the construction of solar panels designed for use on farmland (known in the industry as ‘agrovoltaics’). Importantly, the duro-plastics are used to replace materials that are both scarce because of the war in Ukraine and produced through energy-intensive processes.
The partnership with Gjenkraft is part of Vattenfall’s push to recycle all of its turbine blades by 2030. The company also has an interim target to recycle 50 per cent of its blades by 2025.
Other wind turbine blade innovations spotted by Springwise include a sensor that monitors the strength and efficiency of wind turbine blades, a Scottish-Norwegian consortium exploring turbine blade recycling, and a robot that remotely inspects and repairs turbine blades.
Written By: Katrina Lane