What should we do with used wind turbines? Build bridges!
Wind energy is experiencing an unprecedented boom worldwide. In the United States alone, the number of wind turbines has more than doubled since 2010: almost 60,000 turbines have been installed there.
However, wind power is not without its disadvantages. In particular, it generates waste that accumulates in landfills: the blades from decommissioned wind turbines. The lifespan of blades is around twenty years, and manufacturers have not yet found environmentally friendly ways of treating blades at the end of their life.
Their large size makes them complex and costly to transport; it is therefore difficult to reuse them. Moreover, the material used to manufacture the blades — fiberglass — is complicated to recycle; it is not biodegradable, and its lifespan is very long.
Up to now, wind power manufacturers used to send their old blades to landfill. However, landfill sites risk becoming overwhelmed in the years to come, when tens of thousands of blades from the first installations will need to be replaced.
This situation could change thanks to the avenues developed by Re-Wind. Since 2016, this start-up, founded by engineers from the United States, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, has been looking for ways to incorporate the raw material from decommissioned wind turbine blades into civil engineering structures, bridges, viaducts, roads, etc.
Bridges, walkways, stadium stands, skateparks…
The Re-Wind team is shortly going to be able to test its solutions. It has salvaged three 12-meter-long blades that a wind farm in Belfast gave it last December. For the moment, it is testing the integrity of their structure at Cork Institute of Technology in Ireland.
If the blades stand up to scrutiny, Re-Wind will use them instead of steel girders to build a footbridge. This footbridge could then be installed next April along a cycle path in County Cork.
Another avenue under consideration is recycling used blades in power towers. A project of this kind could be launched by the summer in Kansas. And Re-Wind has lots of other ideas: skateparks, stadium stands, noise barriers, breakwaters, etc.
One thing is certain: given the number of wind turbines that will be withdrawn from service over the coming years, Re-Wind is sure to have no shortage of raw materials to test all the ideas that its engineers come up with.
“Today’s wind turbine blades could become tomorrow’s bridges,” Grist, January 8, 2021 - grist.org/energy/todays-wind-turbine-blades-could-become-tomorrows-bridges