Approximate 85% of turbine components, including steel, copper cables, electronics and gear can be recycled or reused. But fiberglass blades are difficult to remove.
In order to be transported, they they are cut into three pieces with an industrial saw with a diamond blade. This method leads to prohibitive long-distance transportation costs.
So, companies are now looking for ways to deal with the tens of thousands of shovels that have reached the end of their lives, many of which are not the most environmentally friendly, burying them forever is also not ideal.
Why are wind turbines used?
To prevent catastrophic climate change caused by burning fossil fuels, many governments and corporations have promised to use only green energy until 2050. Wind energy is one of the cheapest ways to achieve this goal.
Strathclyde University of Glasgow recycling solution
A team of researchers at Strathclyde University in Glasgow has discovered a method to recycle certain composites used in wind turbine blades, which were previously impossible to recycle, which is why thousands of obsolete blades were buried annually.
The university has developed a thermal recovery and post-treatment process of glass fibers from polymer composites reinforced with glass fibers, found in wind blades, to obtain almost perfect quality glass fibers.
This composite used in wind turbine blades is considered a hard material to recycle and usually goes straight to the landfill. If implemented globally, it is estimated that the technique will meet almost half of the global demand for fiberglass.
"Recycling fiberglass can turn composite waste into reusable fiber and could serve 50% of global fiber demand glass if implemented worldwide. As the process produces both medium value and high value fibers, a wide range of markets can be covered, from less demanding products to high performance products.
Recycled GRP (fiberglass) will also be attractive to industries outside the wind farm and can be adapted for a wide range of composite applications.
Today, GRP is used in sectors such as car production, shipbuilding, oil and gas production, construction and sporting goods. ", shows the University.
Aker Offshore Wind and Aker Horizons
For this reason, the university has signed a memorandum of understanding with Norwegian offshore wind developer Aker Offshore Wind and green investment company Aker Horizons to implement its new technology.
The recycling method developed by Global Fiberglass Solutions
Also, a start-up, Global Fiberglass Solutions, has developed a the method of breaking the blades and pressing them into granules and fiberboard to be used for floors and walls.
The company started the production of samples at a factory in Sweetwater, Texas, near the largest concentration of wind farms on the continent. The company is planning another operation in Iowa.
"We can process 99,9% of a blade and we can go through almost 6000 - 7000 blades per year per factory ", said the director general Don Lilly. The company has accumulated an inventory of shovels in almost a year, which are ready to be shredded and recycled as demand increases, according to him.
"When we start selling more to builders, we can get more. Now we're just getting ready.", he said.
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