With the rapid development of wind energy technology in the past 15 years comes a new conundrum: how to dispose of the non-biodegradable blades in current wind turbines in a sustainable way.
The objective of this research project is to compare sustainable end–of–life (EOL) reuse and recycling strategies for composite material wind turbine blades using a Geographic Information Science (GIS) platform coupled with environmental, economic and social Life–Cycle Assessments (LCA).
The estimated lifespan of non-biodegradable blades is 20 years, meaning that they’ll need to be disposed of in the near future. Under a project dubbed “RE-WIND,” an interdisciplinary research team comprising experts from City University of New York, Georgia Institute of Technology, University College Cork and Queen’s University Belfast is seeking an alternative to unsustainable disposal methods such as landfill and incineration.
The problem is one of enormous scale on several levels: a typical 2.0 MW turbine has three 50m long blades containing around 20 tonnes of fibre reinforced polymer (FRP) composites. It is estimated that by 2050, 39.8 million tonnes of material from the global wind industry will await disposal.
The composite nature of the materials used in the construction of wind blades (glass and carbon fibres, resins, foams) is unsustainable. Hence, the project sets out to deploy innovative design and logistical concepts for reusing and recycling these blades. The project begins within an innovative joint design studio, staged between Queen’s University Belfast and the Georgia Institute of Technology, where architecture students will, within the highly-constrained contexts of the blade properties and the potential reuse sites, systematically generate, filter, and prototype a selection of proposals, reusing the decommissioned wind turbine blades in buildings, infrastructure, landscape, and public art.
The research is being conducted in four fundamental scientific disciplines with specific intellectual foci: Wind Energy, Design for the Built Environment, Structural Mechanics, and, Geographic Information System (GIS). The objective of this research is to develop a methodology for use by relevant stakeholders – the national and local energy and waste management policy makers, wind energy company executives, wind turbine manufacturers and installers and community members. To make the research manageable and to test the methodology under realistic conditions the scope of the research will be limited in both geography and the specific wind blades considered.
A team of researchers from the City College of New York (US), Georgia Institute of Technology (US), University College Cork (RoI) and Queen's University Belfast (NI) spread across the disciplines of Engineering, Architecture, Geography, Sociology, and Political Science will conduct the research.
The focus of this group is on the social, environmental and economic sustainability of reuse, recycle and disposal options for decommissioned wind turbine blades. The socio-political, market and community dimensions are considered alongside active community engagement strategies to carve out new market configurations for reuse products, producers and end-users. A key challenge will be quantifying and reducing the medium to long term environmental impacts of wind turbines. LCA's will be carried out to generate friendlier alternatives to landfill and incineration.
The focus is on understanding the residual properties of wind blade composite materials at the end of their service lives, the appropriate load cases for the reused structures or products and their structural design.
Design for the Built Environment
The intellectual focus is on the design of systems across the built environment that drive change and best-practice in dealing with decommissioned wind turbine blades. Focus will be placed on developing outcomes that respond to specific geographic, social, cultural and economic scenarios as well as dealing with each blades highly-constrained material properties and geometries. The aim is to create an tectonic that goes beyond the obvious and drives innovation from surface to structure and from object to operation.
Geographic Information Science (GIS)
The focus is on developing an open GIS system for wind blade reuse and recycling, containing embedded reuse design options and their environmental, economic and social impacts for subsequent network analysis.
THIS MATERIAL IS BASED UPON WORK SUPPORTED BY INVESTNI/DEPARTMENT FOR THE ECONOMY (DFE), GRANT USI-116; BY SCIENCE FOUNDATION IRELAND, GRANT 16/US/3334; AND BY THE U.S. NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION UNDER GRANTS NUMBERS 1701413 AND 1701694. ANY OPINIONS, FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS OR RECOMMENDATIONS EXPRESSED ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHORS AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE FUNDING AGENCIES.
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