A startup with ties to Alliant Energy said it’s building a plant near Cedar Rapids that will recycle decommissioned wind turbine blades, preventing the spent equipment from going into landfills and addressing critics’ challenges that wind energy is environmentally friendly.
Travero, an Alliant subsidiary, is spinning off a new business called REGEN Fiber. The startup announced Thursday it’s building a plant in Fairfax that will convert used wind turbine blades into reusable materials that increase the strength and durability of concrete, mortar and other products.
REGEN Fiber said it has a patent pending for an “eco-friendly process” that it piloted last year at a facility in Des Moines.
Wind power isn’t cleaning up as much pollution as it could, especially in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods, new research shows. The US’s wind energy boom has already led to billions of dollars of health benefits. But the majority of that hasn’t trickled into communities that have historically been burdened with the most air pollution, finds a study published today in the journal Science Advances. Fortunately, that could change if new wind energy projects are deployed more strategically.
The wind industry is committed to achieve the full recyclability of our turbines in line with the EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan and the ambitions of the EU Green Deal.
So the wind industry is calling for a Europe-wide landfill ban on decommissioned wind turbine blades by 2025. This means the industry commits to re-use, recycle or recover 100% of decommissioned blades. This landfill ban would accelerate the development of sustainable recycling technologies for composite materials.
The position paper further highlights four pillars of action to achieve full recyclability:
Increasing funding on research and development (R&D) for evaluating and scaling-up diversified blade recycling technologies (with a focus on industrial upscaling and commerciailsation);
Incentivising the use of recycled composite materials in new products;
Increasing funding on R&D for the development and use of new (recyclable) blade materials; and
Establishing a European cross-sectorial platform (including all composite waste producing sectors) and sharing good practice.
The wind industry will develop an industry roadmap further detailing the steps required to accelerate wind turbine blade circularity. This roadmap will focus on four workstreams:
implementing the landfill ban,
achieving full recyclability of existing blades in the future,
making future blades fully circular and
engaging with other sectors.
It will require commitment from policy makers, other composite users and recovery and recycling players to make these commitments a reality.
In 2006, a team of architects were tasked with building a playground with volumes that kids could crawl into and play. Jos de Krieger—then an intern, now a partner at the Rotterdam-based architecture practice Superuse Studios—remembers looking at airplane fuselages and grain siloes, before stumbling upon a stack of decommissioned wind blades in an industrial part of town. An idea was born.
The first blade recycling plant project presented in Spain has received recognition from the European Union, granting aid of more than 12 million euros to the consortium in which the project is immersed.
The consortium led by Endesa and PreZero aims to allocate recycled material to the production of new products, thus closing the circle of a new useful life.
The new recycling plant that will be located in Cubillos del Sil (León), is part of Endesa’s Futur-e Plan for the Compostilla thermal power plant currently being dismantled.
A new fiberglass recycling technology is helping to develop a circular wind turbine economy while creating jobs and revitalizing a historic site.
Carbon Rivers, a company that produces advanced material and energy technologies, has commercialized a process to recover clean, mechanically intact glass fiber from decommissioned wind turbine blades. Glass fibers are a key part of the composite—a material made up of multiple constituents such as polymers and fibers—used to create wind turbine blades. Typically, turbine blades are 50% glass or carbon fiber composite by weight. However, Carbon Rivers upcycles all components of the blade, including the steel.
Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind Energy Technologies Office, the Carbon Rivers project team, led by Ryan Ginder, Bowie Benson, and Eva Li in collaboration with the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, successfully scaled up a recovery process that has the capability to divert thousands of tons of waste that would otherwise be destined for landfills. To date, Carbon Rivers has upcycled a few thousand metric tons and is building capacity in their new facility to take in over 50,000 metric tons annually.
Wind power is an increasingly popular form of renewable energy. However, when it’s time to replace the huge turbine blades that convert wind into electricity, disposal is a problem. Now, scientists report a new composite resin suitable for making these behemoths that could later be recycled into new turbine blades or a variety of other products, including countertops, car taillights, diapers and even gummy bears.
The researchers will present their results today at the fall meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).
“The beauty of our resin system is that at the end of its use cycle, we can dissolve it, and that releases it from whatever matrix it’s in so that it can be used over and over again in an infinite loop,” says John Dorgan, Ph.D., who is presenting the work at the meeting. “That’s the goal of the circular economy.”
The material could even be upcycled into higher-value products. Digesting the thermoplastic resin in an alkaline solution released poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA), a common acrylic material for windows, car taillights and many other items. Raising the temperature of the digestion converted PMMA into poly(methacrylic acid), a super-absorbent polymer that is used in diapers. The alkaline digestion also produced potassium lactate, which can be purified and made into candy and sports drinks. “We recovered food-grade potassium lactate and used it to make gummy bear candies, which I ate,” Dorgan says.
A study of the value of distributed wind energy in a remote area of Alaska shows that the standalone wind turbine installed for a rural community provides significant economic and climate benefits, indicating that other remote communities could also achieve similar beneficial results from wind energy.
The study, conducted by a research team from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and Sandia National Laboratories and published in the journal Energies, centered around distributed wind energy—meaning wind turbines that power nearby individual homes, businesses, and communities—in the tiny western Alaskan village of St. Mary’s.
Nearly 700 people make up the St. Mary’s, Alaska, community. The village historically receives electricity from a diesel power plant, which also serves two other small villages, Pitka’s Point and Mountain Village. The electric microgrids of the three villages are connected to each other but isolated from outside transmission systems. Diesel, however, is expensive and challenging to deliver to remote Alaskan villages due to transportation, logistical, and weather challenges.
In 2019, a 900-kilowatt standalone wind turbine was erected in Pitka’s Point, which serves all three communities. The turbine helps provide electricity flow to the St. Mary’s microgrid to power homes and other buildings in the village. Alaska Village Electric Cooperative—or AVEC—owns and operates both the diesel power plant and the wind turbine. The turbine was partially funded through a 2016 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Indian Energy grant to the AVEC/Pitka’s Point Native Corporation Renewable Energy Joint Venture.
With the support of DOE’s Wind Energy Technologies Office, the research team used a PNNL-developed framework to evaluate the benefits and costs of this distributed wind energy project for different stakeholders. In this case, they considered the impact to AVEC, as well as the village’s residents, the state of Alaska, and the world at large.
The team discovered that AVEC could avoid $5.3 million in expected diesel costs over the lifetime of the turbine as the wind energy partially displaces diesel generation.
“When looking from a societal perspective, there’s also tremendous benefit to the environment with a decrease in carbon dioxide emissions from diesel use, which is valued at almost $2 million from avoiding long-term damage to health, property, and more,” said PNNL economist Sarah Barrows, who led the study.
Adds Barrows, “We also found that construction, as well as operations and maintenance over the distributed wind energy project’s lifetime, translated into an estimated $7 million in economic benefits within the state of Alaska. The economic impact from spending on construction, operations, and maintenance combined was by far the largest overall benefit to society, as the project created jobs and contributed to economic growth in the state.”
The team noted that other sources of funding, such as incentives, awards, and subsidies, can help utilities, like AVEC, reduce often-insurmountable upfront costs. The several million dollars in total estimated societal benefits—which are separate from the estimated benefits to AVEC—far outweighed St. Mary’s project cost to the public in terms of federal and state awards to install the turbine, illustrating the return on investment of public funding.
Results of the study provide information that can help utilities, such as AVEC, as well as federal and state lawmakers make sound decisions about installing distributed wind turbines to support other villages’ remote microgrid systems.
The PNNL team will focus future efforts on other aspects of distributed wind energy in remote communities, including resilience and environmental justice impacts; as well as economics of potential hybrid systems that use wind energy, solar power, and energy storage to support remote communities.
This research is part of PNNL’s growing valuation analysis research.