What to do with the blades of wind turbines that no longer work? bridges obviously

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The question seems simple, but it actually has a crumb: What do we do with the wind turbine blades when it’s time to retire them? What use do we make of those? large structures made of polyester or epoxy reinforced with glass, carbon or aramid fibers and measuring between five and more than 80 meters? One option is to take them to the landfill; but it has its drawbacks. They take up a lot of space and their materials do not break down easily. Another alternative is to incinerate them and thus achieve more energy or resort to processes such as pyrolysis or gasification, which preserve reusable materials; but neither are they a panacea for their emissions.

Making use of imagination and a good dose of creative engineering, there are firms that have put another alternative on the table: turn them into bridges. These are not proposals, vague ideas or plans. At least two structures have already been built, one in western Poland, which opened in January; and another in Cork, Ireland, which will open, if all goes according to plan, in the spring. The first infrastructure was developed the anmet company and the second Re-Wind.

A second life building bridges

“Many elements of windmills, such as the tower and nacelle, are made primarily of metals, the recycling process of which is well known. The main problem continues to be the recycling of composite materials: the oldest, with fiberglass (GFK), and the one that is increasingly found in new types of blades, carbon fiber (CFK)”, details Anmet, a firm founded 1998 and based in Koszarowa, a town in western Poland, which also works with mechanical processing methods for GFK and thermal for CFK compounds.

In its search for alternative formulas for recycling wind turbine blades, the company has promoted research together with the Warsaw University of Technology and the Rzeszów University of Technology. The goal, they explain: Reuse pieces already discarded to build bridges and other structures that can serve communities.

Kladki Prototyp

Anmet signature bridge prototype. Image: Anmet

Larger blades are reused, as well as on walkways and bridges —the company announces including drawbridges—, for the construction of columns, formwork, poles or observation towers, among other structures. The smaller ones are dedicated above all to reinforcing embankments and slopes or enjoy a “second life” as street furniturein the form of canopies, benches, lampposts, rubbish bins or covers under which to store cars and bicycles.

Combining the composition of the blades themselves with other resources, such as wood and vegetable fibers, the Polish company is also developing a material that, once it has completed its period of use, can be used as fuel in incineration plants. Anmet ensures that it also takes advantage of resins and carbon fibers. “We have developed a technology to recover them from the blades of wind turbines,” they detail from the company, which ensures that it can obtain fibers of up to eight meters and investigates their recycled use in sheets.


Anmet drawbridge proposal. Image: Anmet

To demonstrate its ability, Anmet built last year a bridge spanning a river in Szprotawa, a small town in western Poland. The project was undertaken in part with European funding and after completing tests with the Rzeszów University of Technology. The structure was inaugurated last month and now the firm trusts that it will open new ways.

A similar goal pursues, hundreds of kilometers away, Re-Wind, a network run by an Irish team from Munster University of Technology and University College Cork. At the end of January, a bridge on the greenway between Midelton and Youghall, in County Cork, was completed.


Design raised by the Re-Wind network.

Your managers recently told The Verge that the network proposal is not attractive only because of its environmental advantages by seeking a “second life” for the blades; They also maintain that it can be a cost-competitive formula when it comes to building bridges. In the case of Cork, Re-Wind estimates that by using discarded structures from a Belfast wind farm avoided the emission of almost 800 kilos of CO2 which would have required the same project with steel beams.

Re-Wind already has even a catalog with the solutions offered by the network, which brings together the efforts of professionals from the Georgia Institute of Technology, University College Cork, Queen’s University Belfast, City University of New York and Munster Techonological University. To develop their designs they worked with blades between 13.4 and 46.7 meters. In their list they include, in addition to bridges, other furniture options that take advantage of old wind structures, such as telephone towers, fences, acoustic barriers, canopies or even as feeders on farms.


Proposal prepared by the Re-Wind network.

The objective, both in the case of Re-Wind and the firm Anmet, is essentially the same: to find solutions to a problem —that of what we do with the components of wind turbines— that will probably get worse over time.
Statista portal tables show that we have more and more wind turbines. Or what is the same, shovels candidates for retirement. If in 2011 there were around 19,600 installed in Spain, in 2019 there were already more than 20,900.

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

With the data from the Wind Energy Business Association (AEE) on the table, that is equivalent, today, there are approximately 64,200 blades. And the number grows. On average, the design life of a wind turbine is 20 or 25 years, although it usually extends to 30, which outlines the scenario that will be drawn as the decades go by. As we told you in September, although around 85% of the turbine material can be recycled, the great challenge is represented by the blades, which is why options such as mechanical, thermal or chemical recycling are already being put on the table.

Reuse seeks to offer another life to those giants of the wind.

Images | Re-Wind and Anmet

The question seems simple, but it actually has a crumb: What do we do with the wind turbine blades when…

The question seems simple, but it actually has a crumb: What do we do with the wind turbine blades when…

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