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| 1 minute read

Circular wind turbine economy - from blades to gummy bears

Wind power has been hailed as one of the key energy sources to lead the way to the net zero goals being set around the world. Beyond the investment uncertainties, operating costs are often cited as challenges in scaling up this power source to meet increasing energy demand globally. However, another important challenge is coming into focus as first-generation turbines reach the end of their projected lifecycle. Landfill sites are starting to fill with turbine blades from early generation blades presenting an environmental hurdle to overcome.

Solutions to this problem have been developed and are already being adopted. For example, Siemens Gamesa's RecyclableBlades were installed in the German North Sea in July 2022. According to the company's press release, these turbine blades are made of, "a combination of materials embedded in resin to form a strong, stiff structure". Furthermore, at the end of a turbine lifecycle, the resin, fiberglass, and wood, are separated, "using a mild acid solution". These materials can then go into the circular economy, creating new products like, "suitcases or flat-screen casings" without the need for new raw materials.

Another new resin could offer a tastier solution. Researchers at Michigan State University have made a composite resin for the blades by combining glass fibers with a plant-derived polymer and a synthetic one. Digesting the resin in an alkaline solution produces potassium lactate, which can be purified to make sweets and sports drinks. In fact, one of the researchers even ate a gummy bear made from the process; literally putting their money where his mouth is. 

The innovation on display in both these solutions is remarkable and really highlights the potential possibilities when brilliant minds apply themselves to the challenging problems in the renewables sector.

On eating gummy bears that are derived from a wind turbine, Dorgan says “a carbon atom derived from a plant, like corn or grass, is no different from a carbon atom that came from a fossil fuel. It’s all part of the global carbon cycle, and we’ve shown that we can go from biomass in the field to durable plastic materials and back to foodstuffs.”


energy & environment, chemistry