Can Old Wind Turbine Blades Be Repurposed for a 'Second Wind'?
When wind turbine blades reach the end of their usefulness, most are sawed into transportable pieces and hauled to landfills, where they never break down. Because of the resources and energy that go into producing these blades, this type of disposal is inefficient and wasteful. Recently, several innovative companies have begun brainstorming better ways to repurpose this green technology after it goes offline.
According to Scientific American, wind turbines are built to last an industry standard of 30 years. As installed wind energy capacity continues to increase globally, it is becoming increasingly important to think about the next phase in a wind turbine's lifecycle: the end. Some existing turbines have already been taken out of service and decommissioned at the end of their lifecycle, or during "repowering," a process where companies replace smaller turbines with bigger ones capable of producing more energy.
While roughly 85 percent of turbine component materials — including steel, copper wide, electronics and gearing — can be recycled or reused, old blades are harder to salvage, Scientific American reported. Since blades are comprised of fiberglass, a lightweight and durable composite material ideal for withstanding storms, separating the plastic and glass fibers for recycling is difficult, the article found. The process also requires powerful diamond-encrusted industrial saws and a lot of effort. Due to this, tens of thousands of aging blades are being removed and have nowhere to go but landfills, according to Bloomberg Green.
The article estimated that 8,000 blades will be decommissioned each year until 2024, and Europe will see about 3,800 coming down each year through at least 2022.
To combat what Grist called the impending "wind turbine blade waste crisis," scientists around the world are focused on finding ways to recycle, upcycle and redesign blades for the future.
Washington-based Global Fiberglass Solutions (GFS) believes itself to be the first U.S.-based company to commercially recycle fiberglass wind turbine blades, a 2019 Plastics Recycling Update report noted. According to a GFS press release, the company grinds up discarded blades, which are then used for decking materials, pallets and piping, NPR reported.
Wind energy giant G.E. similarly announced a wind turbine blade recycling program in the U.S., where the majority of old blades from onshore turbines would be shredded and used to replace raw materials in cement manufacturing, Utility Dive reported late last year.
The process should make wind turbines fully recyclable while also reducing carbon dioxide emissions from cement production by a net 27 percent, Utility Dive found. Because concrete is the most widely used human-made material in existence, the production of cement, one of its composite materials, accounts for approximately eight percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, reported BBC in 2018. Veolia, the company that will process GE's old blades for recycling, hopes to use this co-processing technology to create a greener cement, Bob Cappadona, executive vice president for Veolia North America's environmental solutions and services, told Utility Dive.
"Last summer we completed a trial using a GE blade, and we were very happy with the results. This fall we have processed more than 100 blades so far, and our customers have been very pleased with the product," said Cappadona.
Upcycling might be a stronger solution for the planet because old blades' strength and durability aren't wasted by shredding them. In Ireland, an experimental blades-to-bridges program run by Re-Wind is reimagining decommissioned blades into bicycle and pedestrian bridges, transmission towers and other civil engineering structures, the Union of Concerned Scientists reported. The blade pieces are strong enough to replace steel girders in construction because the technology is built to withstand intense pressure and wind speeds, Grist added.
Re-Wind is brainstorming other novel uses for the scrap blades, from serving as artificial reefs to highway noise barriers. The company is also considering cutting up the durable material to create affordable housing that can withstand extreme weather, Grist reported.
"If you are talking about a sustainable, renewable fuel source, it's not appropriate to then pollute the environment with materials that are decommissioned," Re-Wind team lead Larry Bank told Grist.
A final innovation hopes to add a third option to the recycle-or-discard dilemma surrounding wind turbines. Scientists at National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are changing turbine material in hopes of making them cheaper and recyclable. Last November, Scientific American reported on the new turbine blades, which use a thermoplastic resin instead of epoxy thermoset resin to set the fiberglass into shape. Critically, the new material can be reclaimed at the end of a blade's life by melting and reusing it in new blades.
While years of additional testing may be required, Daniel Laird, the director of NREL's wind technology center, was hopeful. He told Scientific American, "I think that a lot of progress is going to be made on the recyclability of blades in the next year or two."
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Wisdom the mōlī, or Laysan albatross, is the oldest wild bird known to science at the age of at least 70. She is also, as of February 1, a new mother.
<div id="dadb2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aa2ad8cb566c9b4b6d2df2693669f6f9"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1357796504740761602" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Cute baby alert! Wisdom's chick has hatched!!! 🐣😍 Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan albatross) and world’s oldest known, ban… https://t.co/Nco050ztBA</div> — USFWS Pacific Region (@USFWS Pacific Region)<a href="https://twitter.com/USFWSPacific/statuses/1357796504740761602">1612558888.0</a></blockquote></div>
By Hui Hu
Winter is supposed to be the best season for wind power – the winds are stronger, and since air density increases as the temperature drops, more force is pushing on the blades. But winter also comes with a problem: freezing weather.
Comparing rime ice and glaze ice shows how each changes the texture of the blade. Gao, Liu and Hu, 2021, CC BY-ND
Ice buildup changes air flow around the turbine blade, which can slow it down. The top photos show ice forming after 10 minutes at different temperatures in the Wind Research Tunnel. The lower measurements show airflow separation as ice accumulates. Icing Research Tunnel of Iowa State University, CC BY-ND
While traditional investment in the ocean technology sector has been tentative, growth in Israeli maritime innovations has been exponential in the last few years, and environmental concern has come to the forefront.
theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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