February 28, 2024

This file photo taken on July 31, 2018 shows workers checking the quality of newly manufactured wind turbine blades at a factory in China.

AFP | Getty Images

A collaboration between science and industry is expected to focus on recycling fiberglass products, which could ultimately help reduce waste from wind turbine blades.

In an announcement on Thursday, the University of Strathclyde, based in Glasgow, Scotland, said it had signed a memorandum of understanding with Aker Offshore Wind and Aker Horizons.

Among other things, the trio will work together to scale and commercialize a laboratory-developed process that involves recycling fiberglass-reinforced polymer composites used in wind turbine blades.

According to the university, the system focuses on the “heat recovery and post-treatment of glass fibers” from glass fiber-reinforced polymer composite scrap with the end result “glass fibers of almost virgin quality”. The idea is that with this system the composite waste can be reused.

“This is a challenge not just for the wind power industry, but for all industries that rely on GRP materials to manufacture and manufacture them,” said Liu Yang, head of the Advanced Composites Group at the University of Strathclyde, in a statement.

“Maintaining and redistributing the energy contained in the fibers is critical to moving towards a circular economy,” he added.

What to do with wind turbine blades when they are no longer needed is an industry headache. This is because the composite blades can prove difficult to recycle, which means many end up in landfill at the end of their lifespan.

As the number of wind turbines on the planet increases, the problem becomes even greater. According to Strathclyde, blade waste could reach 400,000 tons per year by 2030.

In recent years, a number of companies in the industry have tried to find solutions to the problem.

For example, last December, GE Renewable Energy and Veolia North America signed a “multi-year contract” to recycle blades removed from onshore wind turbines in the US.

In an announcement at the time, GE Renewable Energy said the blades would be crushed at a Veolia North America facility in Missouri before being “used as a substitute for coal, sand and clay in cement factories in the United States.”

In January 2020, the Danish wind energy giant Vestas announced that it wanted to produce zero-waste wind turbines by 2040.