Wind energy is good for the climate. But when a wind turbine reaches the end of its lifespan, its blades are hard to recycle.
Wind turbine blades are huge and strong, so they’re difficult to grind up and reuse. And they’re made of a mix of glass and plastic fibers that are tough to separate, so most end up in landfills.
“It causes the problem of filling up the landfill, and it also causes the problem of placing a non-biodegradable material in the landfill, which will be sitting there for hundreds if not thousands of years,” says Lawrence Bank of Re-Wind, a research group with partners from four universities, including the Georgia Institute of Technology.
He says this problem is urgent. Turbines have a lifespan of about 20 years, so many older ones will soon need disposal.
Re-Wind is working on ways to upcycle these blades.
In Ireland, they’re using large pieces to make a bridge on a pedestrian and bike greenway. And at a wind farm in Kansas, Re-Wind plans to try placing old blades vertically in the ground and using them as electrical transmission poles.
Bank sees big potential in both ideas, and he thinks these early projects will help the market see it, too.
“We hope that this will demonstrate that there are other uses for these large wind turbine blades,” he says.
Reporting credit: Stephanie Manuzak/ChavoBart Digital Media.