As reported in Scientific American, researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have developed a new wind turbine blade that will be cheaper to make and transport, and is recyclable, unlike blades currently in use which end up being landfilled at end-of-life.
“It’s not easy to make a wind turbine blade. Conventional blades require a lot of labor. They are a sandwich composed of fiberglass, sheets of balsa wood and a chemical called an epoxy thermoset resin. A heat oven is required to give blades the proper shape, strength, smoothness and flexibility to catch the wind and turn the turbine.
The new NREL blade uses most of these components, but bonds them together with a thermoplastic resin that can harden and set the blade’s shape at room temperature. It can also be reclaimed at the end of its life by heating it into a liquid resin that can then be reused to make new blades.
That minimizes the waste problem, which became more difficult in Europe after the European Union banned old blades from being dumped in landfills. The new resin is called Elium, and it’s made by Arkema Inc., a French company with offices in King of Prussia, Pa. Arkema is working with NREL to develop the recyclable blade.”
Testing has also suggested the new blade design could have a greater “damping effect,” meaning there would be reduced vibration in the wind during use, and thus, less of the noise nuisance which has been associated with wind turbines. This may also mean reduced stress on the turbine structure resulting in a longer product life.
While this is certainly a promising development, more research is needed before such blades become available for use. Experts at NREL say years of further testing may be required to assure the new blade design is capable of living up to the industry standard of enduring outdoor elements for about 30 years.
Wind Turbine Blades Can’t Be Recycled, So They’re Piling Up in Landfills, Feb. 5, 2020 by Chris Martin for Bloomberg
Wind Turbine End-of-Life Strategies from the AWEA
NREL Advanced Manufacturing Research Moves Wind Turbine Blades Toward Recyclability, NREL news release, Nov. 17, 2020