Upscale wind turbines get a second life - BBC News

Upscale wind turbines get a second life – BBC News

  • By Louise Cullen
  • BBC NI agriculture and environment correspondent

Image caption,

Kenny McDonald is the technical manager of a project led by Queen’s University Belfast to find new uses for wind turbine blades.

When is a wind turbine not a wind turbine?

Once it was turned into a bridge. Or street furniture. Or, in the future, it could even be a phone tower.

Welcome to the world of turning renewable energy into renewable everyday products.

Researchers led by Queen’s University Belfast have been trying to find ways to regenerate the structures, known as wings.

While wind turbines are the heroes of renewable energy production, their blades are currently not recyclable and must be landfilled or incinerated.

By 2030, it is estimated that 450 blades on the island of Ireland will be at the end of 20 to 25 years of energy production capacity – 110 of them in Northern Ireland.

The project team showed that the blades can be made safely on small bridges, suitable for green ways and culverts.

The work led to a spin-off business looking at street furniture and other possibilities.

Image caption,

The project team demonstrated that the blades can be safely made into small bridges, suitable for greenways and culverts.

“The blades are only designed to last 20-25 years,” said Kenny McDonald, the project’s technical manager.

“There was no thought of where these would go once they were removed from the turbine itself.

“So that’s a challenge for the US/Ireland project that we’re involved in.”

An amazing prototype

Queen’s worked on the project with the University of Cork, Munster Technology College and two institutions in the United States – Georgia Technical College in Atlanta and the City University of New York.

The design team started with two cymbals and came up with the idea of ​​a bridge – 7m long and 2m wide.

With a sheltered open space to build the prototype at Creagh Concrete in Draperstown, County Londonderry, work began in the Belfast lab to bring the researchers’ vision to life.

That required hours of careful measurement before any cuts were made.

Image caption,

Kenny McDonald was surprised by the success of the project

The success of the final build surprised even Kenny.

“If you think about it, the safe work of this bridge is assumed to be six tons.

“We were able to put over 34 tons on top of it.

“And when all the load is removed, the bridge returns half a millimeter to its original position.”

Now, the plan is to get funding to try to connect the two blades together to increase both the bridge’s size and possibilities.

“Globally, our Wind Project estimates that by 2042, 8.6m tonnes of wind turbine blade material will need to find some form of recycling,” said Queen’s project leader Professor Jenny McKinley.

“Some of the more common options we have – there are children’s playgrounds made from wind turbine blades; there are bike shelters made from wind turbine blades.

“But those are the only two. We really need a big sustainable option.”

By 2037, the team estimates 9,600 tonnes of blade material will need to be recycled on the island of Ireland.

image source, Queens University Belfast

Finding solutions to this challenge gave PhD student Angie Nagle her doctorate and a plan to start a blade application business.

“There’s a huge opportunity to reuse these things, I mean people are paying a lot of money to get a bridge made of this glass fiber reinforced polymer – GFRP.

“It’s a very expensive material, it’s incredibly strong, it’s incredibly strong.

“They have been cycled for 20 to 30 years, but when put into static applications, such as using them as pedestrian bridge girders, they can last another 60 years.

image source, Photo by Shay Murphy

Image caption,

Reusing wind turbines is ‘high energy’

“It’s a great asset. You have to treat it as a local resource.”

Why is this work important?

Wind turbines have proliferated on the island of Ireland in recent decades.

Now, all the farms have been abandoned and the question of what to do with the blades is in focus.

Work continues among scientists around the world to find sustainable materials that can be used to build blades, or a way to recycle existing materials.

Refreshing the blades while work is in progress allows time for solutions to be found and allows them to be useful for a long time.

Landfilling metals, or incinerating them is a big sustainability no-no in a sector that prides itself on being a leader in the fight against climate change.

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