Wind turbines produce electricity without using fossil fuels or producing particulate pollution, but they do create waste. Until recently, wind turbine blades were almost impossible to recycle. Today, energy companies like Siemens Gamesa are trying to redesign wind power so that its giant components don’t end up in landfills.
In a similar effort, the GE-led Zero wastE Blade ReseArch (ZEBRA) consortium has manufactured the world’s largest thermoplastic blade, designed to serve as a full-scale example of a Wind turbine blade 100% recyclable.
The 62-meter recyclable wind turbine blade was designed and manufactured by LM Wind Power from Arkema’s Elium resin, a thermoplastic resin well known for its recyclable properties.
Liquid thermoplastic resin is ideal for large parts fabrication by resin infusion, combined with Owens Corning’s high performance fabrics.
They claim that the resulting composite offers a level of performance similar to that of thermosetting resins, valued for their lightness and durability.
Composite components can be recycled using an advanced method called chemical recycling which completely depolymerizes the resin, separating the fiber from the resin and recovering new virgin resin for reuse, acting as a proof of concept for a circular economy loop for the wind energy manufacturing sector.
LM Wind Power will now begin full-scale structural life testing to verify blade performance and its viability for future sustainable blade production. Once these tests have been completed, the company will also validate end-of-life recycling methods throughout the year, while also working on ways to recycle production waste.
With this project, we are addressing two crucial challenges for the industry. On the one hand, we are advancing our vision of zero excavator waste by preventing and recycling manufacturing waste. On the other hand, we take the recyclability of the blades to a new level: the thermoplastic composite material of the blades at the end of their life has a high value in itself and can be easily used in other industries as composite materials, but also it can be depolymerized and the resin reused in the production of new blades.
John Korsgaard, engineering manager of LM Wind Power.
The ZEBRA project was launched in September 2020 with the aim of demonstrating the technical, economic and environmental relevance of life-size thermoplastic wind turbine blades, with an eco-design approach to facilitate recycling.