Scientists want to recycle wind turbine blades to make gummy bears

Researchers are designing a composite resin for paddles that can be broken down to make new products, including candies and jellies.

Bioplastic from wind turbine blades could be turned into gummy bears.

As wind power grows in importance in the renewable energy mix, some scientists are looking to the future to tackle the waste problem. What happens to wind turbines when they age?

We’ve seen some clever ideas on how to save giant turbine blades from landfill at the end of their useful life, now a team from Michigan State University (MSU) has just released another one with very broad potential and delicious.

As ever larger wind farms come online around the world and operators turn to ever larger blades to power them, the issue of waste becomes more relevant. The thermosetting compounds that make up current turbine blades are not recyclable (although there are already plans for 100% recyclable blades) and, with a lifespan of around 25 years, some studies suggest that by 2050 , there will be more than 40 million tons of this material in landfills.

We’ve seen how scientists have developed self-curing resins that could improve the recyclability of turbine blades, and how big energy companies like GE and Siemens Gamesa have come up with their own recipes for turning them into other valuable products. A team of chemical engineers from the University of Michigan, led by John Dorgan, have brought their expertise to bear on this dilemma and believe the problem is getting worse.

Larger wind turbine blades are more efficient, so companies continue to manufacture larger and larger blades. Wind farms often replace turbine blades before the end of their useful life because the farms can generate more electricity with larger blades.

John Dorgan

Dorgan and his team developed a new resin for turbine blades composed of glass fibers and synthetic and plant-based polymers. The material was made into panels that were tested for strength and durability, and the team found they met performance requirements for use in turbines or even cars.

Most impressive, however, was the new resin recycling potential. The panels could dissolve and remove the glass fibers, allowing the material to be melted into new products. The team mixed it with different minerals to produce cultured stone that could be used as kitchen countertops, and they say it could be mixed with other plastic resins to make things like slipcovers. laptop.

The beauty of our resin system is that at the end of its use cycle we can dissolve it and that releases it from the matrix it’s in so it can be used again and again in a infinite loop. This is the goal of the circular economy.

John Dorgan

In one experiment, the team used an alkaline solution to digest the resin, which reduced it to acrylic materials for use in car windows and taillights. This process also produced potassium lactate, which can be purified and made into candies, a theoretical possibility the team felt compelled to test.

We salvaged food-grade potassium lactate and used it to make candy, which I ate.

John Dorgan

Scientists want to leverage these promising results to fabricate medium-sized turbine blades for field testing, though scaling up will have its challenges.

The current limit is that there is not enough bioplastic to satisfy this market, so a considerable production volume is necessary if we want to start manufacturing wind turbines with these materials.

John Dorgan

Going through www.scientificamerican.com

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