Wind has been powering the world’s energy transition to a more sustainable future, but the turbines that convert wind energy into electricity come with their own carbon footprint. As a result, companies that make turbine components have tried to make the footprint smaller.
Take LM Wind Power, a GE Renewable Energy business, which manufactures wind turbine blades — some 107 meters long. Last year, the company committed to producing zero-waste blades by 2030 by using new materials and reducing and recycling manufacturing waste as much as possible. It also joined the ZEBRA consortium, which stands for Zero wastE Blade ReseArch.
ZEBRA aims to develop a recyclable blade, and this week it delivered the first prototype. LM Wind Power designed and made the 62-meter blade at its plant in Ponferrada, Spain, using a special resin from the French chemicals company Arkema and new high-performance glass materials supplied by Owens Corning.
“With this project we are addressing two crucial industry challenges,” said John Korsgaard, senior director for engineering excellence at LM Wind Power. “On one hand, we are progressing on our zero-waste blades vision by preventing and recycling manufacturing waste. On the other, we are taking blade recyclability to a new level: The end-of-life thermoplastic composite blade material has high value in itself and can be readily utilized in other industries as material compounds but can also be depolymerized and the resin reused in the production of new blades.”
ZEBRA said the blades can be chemically recycled by reversing the manufacturing process, “depolymerizing” the resin, separating the glass fiber from the resin, and then reusing the materials, including in the production of new blades.
LM Wind Power will now start full-scale structural lifetime testing at a test facility near its headquarters in Denmark. The aim is to verify the properties and performance of the blade and the suitability of the material for future sustainable blade production. Following the tests, the partners will also validate the recycling methods.
“The next steps are the recycling of production waste, the dismantling and recycling of this first blade and the analysis of the test results,” ZEBRA said in a press release. “By the end of the project in 2023, the consortium will have taken an important step in meeting the challenge of bringing the wind energy sector into the circular economy loop in a more sustainable manner, according to the principles of eco-design.”