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Scientists invent game-changing way to make clean energy even cleaner: 'We want to be good citizens for everybody'

Once retired, there are few options for wind turbine blades.

Compostable wind turbine blades

Photo Credit: @UCDavis / Youtube

Wind power plays a key role in the world's transition to renewable energy. Now, researchers at UC Davis hope to make wind energy even more environmentally friendly by developing compostable wind turbine blades made of bamboo and mycelium.

As more countries recognize the necessity of switching to renewable energy, wind power has been on the rise. The production and disposal of wind turbine blades, however, need to be revised. 

Designed to withstand high winds and harsh weather conditions, most wind turbine blades are made of fiberglass, epoxy, and carbon fiber layered over balsa wood for flexibility. The average wind turbine blade is 418 feet long and has a lifespan of about 20 years, according to CleanTechnica. 

Once retired, there are few recycling options for wind turbine blades. By 2050, it's projected that over two million tons of retired wind turbine blades will end up in landfills in the United States alone. Globally, that number may be as high as 47 million tons.

The use of balsa wood in wind turbine blades has also led to rampant logging in the Ecuadorian Amazon, threatening the rainforest's ecosystem and the Indigenous communities living there.

Valeria La Saponara, a polymer composites expert and professor at UC Davis in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, envisions compostable, sustainably-produced wind turbine blades. La Saponara and her team of students and researchers are developing wind turbine blades woven from bamboo and mycelium, the rootlike network of fungal threads that bear mushrooms.

"We want to have clean energy, but clean energy cannot pollute the environment, and it can't cause deforestation," La Saponara said in a statement. "If we're doing clean energy, it's not to deforest the Amazon rainforest. We want to be good citizens for everybody."

Mycelium can grow in a variety of conditions, feeding on everything from coffee grounds to discarded plastics. The team hopes to use textile waste to feed the blades' mycelium, therefore eliminating further materials from landfills.

The team has developed prototype blades that will replace the blades on a one-kilowatt turbine for testing. The testing will ensure the blades can withstand winds of up to 85 miles per hour.

"Once we have the proof of concept for 1 kilowatts, which is a reasonable amount of power, then we can start working with companies for the commercialization of this concept for distributed energy applications," La Saponara told CleanTechnica.

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