Wind turbines are used worldwide to produce clean energy. But the blades from the turbines are becoming a recycling problem. In Ireland, they’re not short on ideas on how to recycle the old blades. For example, they are being reused to build bridges, reinforce concrete, and are thought of as a potential highway noise barrier as well as coastal wake walls.
Now, the first generation of wind farms is retiring their turbine blades. Unfortunately, they are basically unrecyclable with a cast from a fixture of plastic and fiberglass. However, fiberglass is a valuable material that’s used to make things light and strong. By reusing the blades made from fiberglass, less new material needs to be produced.
The next-generation blades are going to be made of carbon fibers because the manufacturer wants to increase the size, strength, and lifespan. Switching from fiberglass to carbon fiber will make the next generation blades more recyclable.
But still, there will be a massive amount of old blades in need of a new purpose. This is where University College Cork (UCC) in Ireland comes in with their plan to build a bridge out of old wind turbine blades. The new bridge will span the Middleton-Younghal Greenway, nature walking, and cycling path. Paul Leahy, lecturer in wind energy engineering, says to Euro News:
“The blades are from a decommissioned Nordex N29 turbine, 14 meters long. For this bridge, which has a span of 5m, we cut a short section from the blade. The blades are used as the main structural element of the bridge and are functional in the design.”
“However, they are also aesthetically attractive due to their gently curved shape, so we believe this will become a feature of interest on the greenway route. We are also looking at additional repurposed blade products such as outdoor furniture.”
In addition, UCC is cooperating with schools in the United States on a project known as “re-wind”. It aims to employ old blades for other applications, for example, coastal wake barriers used to protect soil from erosion or to build electrical transmission towers.