While a rapidly growing wind energy industry is a positive sign for our transition toward carbon-free energy sources, there is a disadvantage to all this growth: more waste. The blades on wind turbines only have a lifespan of about 20 years, so older decommissioned wind turbine blades from early wind energy installations are starting to pile up in landfills.
Repurposing these blades is difficult for a couple of reasons. To start with, their large size makes transporting them expensive and complicated. Secondly, the blades are made of fiberglass, a durable yet non-biodegradable material that is terribly hard to recycle.
To address the growing waste issue of old wind turbine blades, a group of researchers from the US, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland have been looking for ways to incorporate them into civil engineering projects. The group of researchers is organized under the name Re-Wind, and their goal is to use old blades to construct large structures such as bridges, roads, and buildings.
Recently, Re-Wind received three 40-foot-long blades from a wind farm in Belfast. The researchers are currently studying the blades’ structural integrity at the Cork Institute of Technology, and if they hold up to scrutiny, the hope is to build a footbridge out of them in Ireland. More specifically, the blades would be used in place of the standard steel girders.
In the US, the researchers are teaming up with an electric power company to see if wind turbine blades can be repurposed into power towers. Having already secured three blades for that project, the aim is to use the blades to build on a wind farm in Kansas by next summer.
Re-Wind doesn’t plan to stop there. Back in 2018, the researchers published a paper with more than 20 suggestions for how the blades could be used. From building skate parks and stadium bleachers to constructing noise barriers, Re-Wind believes there is far more we can do with old blades than just tossing them in the landfill. Let’s hope they’re right!