Wind turbine blades could be recycled and reused under plans being developed by Aker Offshore Wind, Aker Horizons and the University of Strathclyde in the UK
The organisations have signed a memorandum of understanding that aims to drive the development of recovery processes for used glass-fibre products, including a novel process developed at Strathclyde.
Glass-reinforced polymer (GRP) used in wind turbine blades has proved hard to break down and recycle. As a result, nearly all thermoset GRP scrap generated in the UK and Europe goes to landfill or is used to make energy from waste.
The volume of GRP scrap is set to increase substantially, with end-of-life wind turbine blades likely to be a major source in the UK by mid-2030s.
Work by University of Strathclyde suggests that globally, the amount of waste from wind turbine blades will increase from around 400,000 tonnes per annum in 2030 to around 2M tonnes by 2050, a fact that makes recyclability and recycled content increasingly important.
Aker Offshore Wind chief executive Astrid Skarheim Onsum said, “Industrial waste is a challenge in most industries. By teaming up with University of Strathclyde we have an opportunity to further develop a novel solution to a growing issue and apply it at scale.”
University of Strathclyde head of advanced composites Dr Liu Yang said, “This is a challenge not only for the wind energy industry but for all industries reliant on GRP materials.”
Under the terms of the MoU, the parties will scale-up and commercialise a process developed and tested at lab scale by the University of Strathclyde for thermal recovery and post-treatment of glass fibre that can produce near-virgin quality glass fibres.
Aker Offshore Wind and Aker Horizons will contribute funding and expertise to help commercialise the process. Expertise in chemical processing and carbon capture in the wider Aker group will be used to ensure that industrialisation of the process is safe and sustainable.
Developed by the Strathclyde’s department of mechanical and aerospace engineering, the GRP recycling technology can turn composite waste into re-usable fibre reinforcement that, it believes, could meet 50% of global glass-fibre demand, if implemented worldwide. Because the process produces mid- to high-value fibres, a range of target markets can be addressed.
The project partners said recycled GRP will also be attractive to industries outside the wind energy space and could be tailored for use in a range of different composite applications. GRP is used in many industries, including vehicle manufacturing, ships, oil and gas, construction and sporting goods.