Clearvolt

What Happens to Wind Turbine Blades After Their Operational Lifespan Ends?

What Happens to Wind Turbine Blades After Their Operational Lifespan Ends?

The latest green energy trends in the manufacturing industry breakthroughs have led to a novel use for old wind turbine blades: transforming them into sturdy bridges that can bear loads of up to 30 tonnes. These blades, typically having a service life of 20-25 years, are becoming redundant as numerous wind farms initiated in the early 2000s undergo modernisation. [1]

Previously, these decommissioned blades, numbering in the thousands and made of non-biodegradable materials, were either discarded in landfills or incinerated, contributing significantly to environmental problems. To tackle this growing concern, a collaboration among five academic and research institutions across Ireland, Northern Ireland, and the United States resulted in the formation of the Re-Wind Network. This initiative has explored various recycling possibilities for these blades. [2]

Among the several innovative uses identified, one of the most practical applications has been the construction of bridges. This concept has already been put into practice with the successful completion of two pedestrian bridges in Draperstown and Cork.

Jennifer McKinley, a professor at Queen’s University Belfast’s School of Natural and Built Environment, expressed enthusiasm about this development. “With so many of these blades due to reach the end of their lifespan, we need to find ways to transform them into something useful,” she remarked. “I am delighted that by working together we’ve been able to find a way to repurpose wind turbine blades. This can only be a good thing, as without intervention they would end up in landfill or they would have to be incinerated.” [1]

The team is planning to construct a third bridge in Atlanta, Georgia, and aims to increase the scale of these structures in future projects. Researchers project that about 8.6 million tonnes of these wind turbine blades will become obsolete over the next two decades. The blades, composed of glass fibre reinforced polymer, are seen as valuable resources for constructing a variety of structures, including motorway sound barriers and playground installations.

Moreover, three engineers from the Re-Wind Network project have launched BladeBridge, a startup venture focusing on the commercial aspect of this initiative. They aim to design a range of durable and eco-friendly products, such as greenway furniture and additional bridges. “Our collaboration with esteemed designers in Ireland is guiding us towards creating a portfolio of sustainable solutions,” shared BladeBridge co-founder Dr Angie Nagle.

Sources:

  1. www.qub.ac.uk. (2021). Researchers transform landfilled wind turbine blades into footbridges. [online] Available at: https://www.qub.ac.uk/News/Allnews/featured-research/wind-turbines-turned-into-footbridges.html [Accessed 27 Nov. 2023].
  1. The Independent. (2023). Wind turbine blades repurposed into bridges. [online] Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/tech/wind-turbine-blade-recycle-bridge-b2418645.html [Accessed 27 Nov. 2023].