The National Composites Centre in the UK has launched an initiative to accelerate the development of technology, processes and materials that address the recyclability and future development of composite wind turbine blades
Delivered in partnership with the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult and supported by The Crown Estate and RenewableUK, SusWIND aims to drive the future sustainability of wind turbine technology. It brings together leading stakeholders in the composites industry and energy sector to address sustainability challenges.
The challenges include demonstrating viable technologies for recycling wind turbine blades, many of which are reaching the end of their life, and then using the waste materials to develop secondary applications such as composite parts in electric vehicles, bridges and thermal insulation.
Other challenges to be addressed include driving the use of more sustainable materials, such as bio-derived feedstock or thermoplastics in developing composites for turbine blades, rather than from unsustainable sources or with limited potential for economic recyclability; and developing innovative approaches based on design for disassembly, utilising sustainable materials and with end-of-life strategies in mind, therefore future-proofing the next generation of wind turbine blades.
National Composites Centre chief executive Richard Oldfield said, “Composites are a key enabler for the success of wind energy and the role it plays in delivering a low-carbon global economy. But it is apparent to engineers, economists and environmentalists alike that we need to find a more sustainable way forward.
“We must commit to transforming the current linear blade product lifecycle into an increasing circular process that forms part of a larger future market for low carbon, recycled composites materials.
“Investing now in the future of blade sustainability will help unlock the use of recycled composites for the next generation of sustainable transportation and infrastructure. We’re excited to work with key partners and the wind industry through this ambitious programme to deliver a more sustainable future.”
ORE Catapult research and innovation director Dr Stephen Wyatt said it is vital to minimise the direct impact on the environment and look for new ways to recycle existing turbines and their blades. “We must also work to future-proof technology for the next generation through the use of composites or more environmentally friendly and sustainable materials.”
SusWIND is being delivered as part of Sustainable Composites, which is looking at the whole lifecycle of composites to future-proof the aircraft, cars and turbines of tomorrow. Sustainable Composites is a partnership between industry, academia and government that will harness the UK’s composites research and technology development capabilities to capitalise on this rapidly growing circa £2.0Bn (US$2.6Bn) global market for end-of-life recycling.
The initiative will be delivered in three ‘waves’ of activity to address the sustainability challenges for wind turbine blades.
Wave 1 will stimulate the supply chain for blade recycling and how it leverages the broader supply chain for composites recycling demand with other sectors. Work packages including landscape mapping, exploitation routes for upscaling viable technologies and demonstrating the effective use of recycled materials in value-add products for other applications.
Wave 2 will demonstrate options to reduce the environmental footprint of blade manufacture through using more sustainable and lower impact material feedstock, and through minimising or recycling waste streams.
Wave 3 will develop robust guidelines to improve design for end-of-life, ensuring waste is minimised and that composite components can be disassembled for cost effective repair, re-used, remanufactured and recycled more efficiently and cost effectively.