Construction amongst sectors that could benefit from new wind turbine recycling scheme

OLD wind turbine blades could be recycled and reused under plans being developed by the University of Strathclyde, Aker Horizons and Aker Offshore Wind.

The initiative would utilise the university’s novel thermal recovery and post-treatment of glass fibres from glass-reinforced polymer composites (GRP), which are used in wind turbine blades around the world and recognised as a hard-to-break-down source of pollution.

Developed by its department of mechanical and aerospace engineering, the GRP recycling system turns composite waste into reusable fibre reinforcement – with the university estimating that it could serve 50% of global glass fibre demand if implemented worldwide.

It added that recycled GRP would be attractive to industries outside the wind power sector, with it being used in industries such as car manufacturing, maritime vessels, oil and gas production, construction and sporting goods.

A memorandum of understanding signed by the three organisations means that the commercialisation of the process will be scaled up. Aker Horizons and Aker Offshore Wind will contribute funding and relevant competencies to bring the solution to an industrial setting.

Findings from the university indicate a global increase of wind turbine blade waste from around 400,000 tons per annum in 2030 to around two million tons by 2050. As a result, it said that recyclability and recycled content are increasingly important in construction processes. Adding that, in many cases, increased durability and lower weight would also make GRP a more sustainable solution in the long term.

Dr Liu Yang, head of advanced composites group at the University of Strathclyde, said, “This is a challenge not only for the wind power industry, but for all industries reliant on GRP materials in their production and manufacturing. Retaining and redeploying the embodied energy in the fibres is essential as we move to a more circular economy.”

Astrid Skarheim Onsum, chief executive officer of Aker Offshore Wind, added, “At Aker Offshore Wind, sustainability is about making business decisions that add value to our company, our stakeholders and society. Industrial waste is a challenge in most industries, and by teaming up with the University of Strathclyde we have an opportunity to further develop a novel solution to a growing issue and apply it at scale across our segment and beyond.”