Wind turbine blades are notoriously difficult to recycle, but a new scientific innovation finds a breezy new use for them — as gummy bears and other unlikely products.
Researchers at Michigan State University have developed a new system for creating wind turbine blades, making a new resin out of fiberglass and two polymers that can be continuously recycled into more products.
Wind turbine blades have previously been difficult to recycle, and most discarded blades — which can be as long as half of an American football field — end up in landfills, where they pollute the environment and contribute to the dangerous overheating of our planet.
This problem will only increase with time, as more efficient blades continue to be developed, necessitating the replacement of older models. WindEurope, a wind power association, estimates that over 57,000 tons of turbine blades will be replaced by 2030.
“Larger wind turbine blades are more efficient, so companies keep making bigger and bigger ones,” said John Dorgan, Ph.D., who presented the research at the fall meeting of the American Chemical Society. “Often, wind farms will actually replace the turbine blades before the end of service life because the farms can generate more electricity with bigger blades.”
Now, thanks to a new discovery, wind turbine blades can be produced from a recyclable resin, so when the blades need to be replaced, the old ones can be melted down and converted into new products.
The recycled resin can be used to make more turbine blades but also has a number of surprising additional possibilities, including diapers, car tail lights, windows, sports drinks, and, yes, candy.
“The beauty of our resin system is that at the end of its use cycle, we can dissolve it, and that releases it from whatever matrix it’s in so that it can be used over and over again in an infinite loop,” Dorgan said.