from bridges to electrical towers

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The wind power It is called to be (along with solar), one of the great protagonists of the energy transition. In fact, wind is currently one of the main players in many of the world’s electrical systems. Without going any further, in Spain wind power was the main source of electrical energy in 2021, with around 23.3% of total production according to data from Red Eléctrica de España.

But the truth is that, if we want to continue decarbonizing the economy, that share must increase significantly. This is established by the objectives of the National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan (PNIEC), which provide that installed wind power in Spain doubles for the year 2030, going from around 28 current gigawatts to 50. Of course, the prospects for installation worldwide also indicate significant growth.

However, while we continue to install new parks, the oldest ones are beginning to reach the end of their useful life. According to WindEurope data as of 2020, around 34,000 wind turbines installed in European territory are 15 years old or more. Taking into account that the useful life of a wind turbine is usually around 20 to 30 years, this takes us to a near future where many of these machines will be dismantled. To put us in perspective, in 2021 396 megawatts of wind power were dismantled in Europe, but forecasts speak of dismantling 11,400 megawatts over the next 5 years. The volume will grow remarkably.

Dismantling wind turbine blades

As a consequence, in the next few years we will be hanging out with hundreds of these old junked machines. But do not panic: currently 80-90% of a wind turbine is recyclable. We are talking about materials such as steel, copper, aluminium, cast iron, concrete and plastics that do not pose a technological challenge and can be recycled using currently existing processes and facilities. However, the workhorse is in the blades, a much more complex component to recycle given its manufacture in composite materials (fiberglass, carbon fiber, resins and other polymers), which require more complex and expensive processes.

Thousands of wind turbines are approaching the end of their useful life, the big question is what we will do with their blades after

Giving a second life to wind turbine blades

Following one of the fundamentals of caring for the environment known as the three rs rule, the first step we should take to avoid getting too many used shovels together is to reduce the amount of them we use. However, taking into account the decarbonisation needs of the economy, the future installation forecasts and the dismantling forecasts described above, barring a catastrophe, it seems unlikely that this will happen.

The next step would be to reuse. What can we do with used wind turbine blades? That is the question that many startups and universities around the world are beginning to ask. And the truth is that the possibilities are very diverse.

Given their shape, their size and the fact that they are made of resistant and relatively light materials, their use as an architectural element or as furniture is undoubtedly the most widespread. Some of these examples have already been installed, while others are simply ideas from architecture studios or universities.

Children’s parks

In Rotterdam in the Netherlands, we get this curious children’s playground made from reused wind turbine blades promoted by the city council. As you can see, several shovels were cut into parts that serve as tunnels, towers, bridges and slides for the children to enjoy. It is a pioneering place, since it was built in 2009. It is the park that you can also see in the cover photo.

Playground made with wind turbine blades

Wikado playground in Rotterdam. Source: Superuse Studios.

Wind Turbine Blades Wikado Park 2

Subsequently, other similar parks have been built in other nearby locations.

Terneuzen

Playground in Terneuzen. Source: Superuse Studios

Terneuzen Park Blades Wind Turbine 2

street furniture

Also in Rotterdam, this time in the Willemsplein square, comes another example of the use of wind turbine blades as street furniture. In this case, nine complete wind turbine blades have been used to create public seating. As can be seen, they have not been cut (only painted red), although it is also true that they correspond to small wind turbine models.

Rewind Willemsplein 610

Public seats made from wind turbine blades, Rotterdam.

Rewind Willemsplein 12

Some examples of less ambitious furniture but with striking designs are these that come to us from the company ANMET.

Gallery Nasze Prace12

Bench made from wind turbine blades. Source: ANMET

Gallery Nasze Prace13

bridges

The use of shovels for the construction of bridges is perhaps one of the most curious and spectacular applications, but also one of the most labor-intensive. Here, the blade becomes a structural element of the bridge and the need for more complex calculations arises.

Bridge built with wind turbine blades

Bridge built with wind turbine blades. Source: REwind

According to its creators, it is not only a way to find a second life for the blades, but they can become cost-competitive with respect to other traditionally built bridges. Designs can be very diverse.

Rewind Bridge

Pedestrian bridge design. Source: REwind

Bridge Cables Blades

Cable supported bridge design. Source: REwind

Canopies or roof tiles

An application with a lot of potential is the use of the blades as a canopy for different applications. Due to its shape, it is relatively easy to make a cut on the shovel that allows it to be used as a shingle. The following example corresponds to a bicycle rack made from a segment of a shovel. It is located in the port of Aalborg, in Denmark. The REwind company also has a design in your catalogwhich can be used as a bus stop.

Bike rack made from a wind turbine blade

Bike rack made from a wind turbine blade. Source: Siemens Gamesa

Bike rack made from a wind turbine blade

Canopy made with wind turbine blades

A canopy made from wind turbine blades. Source: REwind

acoustic barriers

Another interesting application that REwind has in its catalog is the use of blades as acoustic barriers. The chopped blades could be used to create the typical acoustic walls that are commonly used to separate roads from pedestrian areas.

https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5b324c409772ae52fecb6698/t/61e95d5f4ef3ad0d5eddd595/1642683746379/Re-Wind+Design+Catalog+Fall+2021+Nov+12+2021+%28low+res%29.pdf

Acoustic barriers built with discarded blades. Source: REwind

Even since the shovels are hollow, you could even fill them with soil and include vegetation.

Plant Acoustic Barriers

Towers for power lines

A curious concept, and which also somehow maintains a use related to energy generation, is the use of wind turbine blades as electrical towers to transport electricity. Members of the network at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta have even built a 20-foot-tall prototype.

Now, after verifying that the blade can withstand the weight and loads of the cables, the engineers plan to build a new prototype using a 36-meter-long blade.

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Render of the use of blades as electrical towers. Source: Re-Blade

Size can be a limitation

As can be seen in the images, many of these projects are based on small size blades, which correspond to the blades used in older models and which are reaching the end of their useful life.

However, as the years go by, the blades that are withdrawn will be getting bigger and bigger, opening up a range of possibilities for its reuse: why not make a canopy for cars instead of one for bikes? Or much longer bridges?

However, the reuse of larger blades also involves other handicaps such as logistics. In the end, the cost of transportation to collect the dismantled blades can skyrocket (due to the need for special transport), as well as their processing in a workshop and their transfer to the final location.

This problem in turn can make it more attractive to use other techniques such as grinding or crushing, which in turn greatly limits the possibilities of reuse. Another alternative is usually to cut the shovel in the park, obtaining different pieces of a size that meets the usual (and cheaper) transport standards.

Wind turbine blade transport

When reuse is not possible

But, for one reason or another, reuse is not always possible. It may be because the blade has structural damage that does not allow its reuse, because the logistics cost can skyrocket (it must be remembered that many wind farms are in remote places) or directly because there is not as much market for solutions based on blade reuse.

Be that as it may, the industry is already aware of this problem and projects are beginning to be developed that allow the application of the third of the three rs: Recycle. In this sense, at the level of Spain, projects have already been presented to build a blade recycling plant in Leon and another in Navarre.

Furthermore, looking ahead, manufacturers are already developing so-called 100% recyclable blades, designed from scratch to allow for a simpler and cheaper recycling process. This is the case of Siemens Gamesa and its project RecyclableBlade or from the specialist blade manufacturer LM Wind Power and its ZEBRA project.

In Xataka: Thousands of wind turbines are approaching the end of their useful life, the big question is what we will do with their blades afterwards

The wind power It is called to be (along with solar), one of the great protagonists of the energy transition.…

The wind power It is called to be (along with solar), one of the great protagonists of the energy transition.…

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