Researchers have created a composite resin that they believe can be used in wind turbine blades and then recycled (or upcycled) into a variety of products such as countertops, diapers and even gummy bears.
Presented by Michigan State University (MSU) Scientists their discovery At the American Chemical Society meeting (August 21-25), he said the material could be reused “infinite loops over and over again.”
“That’s the goal of the circular economy,” says John Dorgan, a polymeric materials expert in MSU’s College of Engineering.
Political leaders and scientists are scrambling to find ways to deal with the mountain of “blade waste” created in the global move towards net zero.
It is currently estimated that about 40 million tons of blade waste will need to be treated by 2050.
Wind turbines have a lifespan of about 20-25 years and when they are scrapped they are either recycled, incinerated or dumped in a landfill. The latter practice will be banned in Europe by 2025.
Blade waste dumping remains the most common disposal method for wind turbines, with experts estimating that only 30% of the carbon fiber or glass fiber composites used in turbine blades can be reused. Most of the recycled materials are put into the cement industry as fillers. .
However, despite the difficulty of recycling the technology, wind turbine blades are getting bigger.
“Large wind turbine blades are more efficient, so companies continue to make them bigger and bigger,” Dorgan said in a press release. “Often, wind farms replace turbine blades before the end of their useful life, because farms can generate more power with larger blades.”
Current blades are about half the length of a football field.
What is used in the new resin?
Dorgan and his colleagues have created a new material that combines fiberglass and plant-based synthetic polymers. The material is strong enough to be used in turbine blades and automobiles, as well as recast into other products.
In one example, resin was mixed with various materials to create cultured stone that could be used in countertops and sinks. In another example, the material was pulverized and mixed with plastic resin for injection molding that could be used in laptop covers and power tools.
In addition, digestion of the resin with an alkaline solution released poly(methyl methacrylate), commonly found in windows and car taillights. Alkaline digestion also produces potassium lactate, which can be refined into confectionery and sports drinks.
“We salvaged food-grade potassium lactate, used it to make gummy bear candy, and ate it,” Dorgan said.
He acknowledged that eating candy that was once part of a wind turbine has a bit of a “bad factor”, but it’s not the same as eating carbon atoms in fossils and carbon atoms in corn and grass that are “no different.” Said it’s a bit like… fuel.
“It’s all part of the global carbon cycle, and we’ve shown that we can move from open-air biomass to durable plastic materials and back to food.”
Researchers continue to test the material.
Other ideas to meet the looming waste challenge include a product management program proposed by Professor Peter Majewski of the University of South Australia. The program may require payments from consumers and businesses to make post-consumer recycling more economically viable.