Alternative Fuels, Research

Exploring New Solutions for Wind Turbine Blades

Wind farms began popping up in the 1990s and many turbines are reaching the end of their 20-30-year useful lives now. The challenge of wind turbine blade disposal has captured attention around the world, and a team at the EERC led by Joshua Strege, Principal Process Engineer, has received State Energy Research Center funding to address the need for further research into the recycling or repurposing potential of blades in North Dakota.

Difficulties for disposal include transportation, destruction, and landfilling of decommissioned blades. Strege is hoping to fill the growing demand for novel technologies to avoid landfill disposal of retired blades by finding ways each section could be repurposed to create new, high-value products. There is added public relations pressure to find a solution for keeping a renewable energy source as green as possible.

Currently, the most common method for dealing with used wind blades in the United States is landfill disposal. In Europe, blades are crushed, then burned in cement kilns. Neither of these options is ideal: Landfill disposal is not sustainable due to the size of the blades, and much of the blade structure is poorly combustible. Blades can be resold if they are still in good working order, but this is not always an option. Because blades vary so much from section to section, the ideal solution to reusing blades will likely involve separating blades into different product streams.

“I’m interested in seeing what the different components could be repurposed as—I’m not set on one specific product at this point. There’s potential for reuse in something that could use the retained strength of fiberglass, instead of trying to break it down or sending whole blades to landfills.”

Josh Strege

North Dakota has more than 1,500 turbines, with a typical turbine able to produce up to 1.5 megawatts of energy. A single blade from one of these towers can be more than 110 ft long and weigh over 6 tons. Upgrades will soon be reaching North Dakota’s turbines, and a better solution to one of the wind industry’s biggest challenges could be coming as well. As public pressure grows to find new uses for aged blades, a recycling industry will inevitably develop at some point. Finding secondary values from blades would help offset costs for decommissioning and disposing of blades in North Dakota and could set the state ahead of the curve in developing a blade recycling infrastructure.

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