A startup transforms abandoned wind turbines into useful concrete

Wind turbine blades are recycled into reinforcement fiber that increases the strength and overall durability of concrete.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Wind turbines often end up in landfills.jpg
Wind turbines often end up in landfills.

XtockImages/iStock 

Wind turbines are great for producing energy but become quite wasteful once their lifetime has expired, as the materials used to construct them simply don't biodegrade very well.

They have a lifespan of around 20-25 years, and once they are discarded, their massive, glass or carbon fiber-reinforced blades often end up in landfills.

One company is seeking to do something about that according to a report by electrek published on Thursday.

An Iowa startup with an ambitious and useful goal

The company is an Iowa startup called REGEN Fiber. It transforms wind turbine blades into reinforcement fiber that increases the strength and overall durability of concrete and mortar applications such as pavement, slabs-on-grade, and precast products.

It is owned by the trucking company Travero.

“With tremendous growth projected in the wind industry and an increasing number of turbines already reaching the end of their approximately 20-year lifespan, REGEN Fiber is entering the market at the perfect time,” said Jeff Woods, director of business development at Travero, in a statement.

“Recycling blades without using heat or chemicals while simultaneously keeping them out of landfills or being burned supports the sustainability goals of both the wind industry and customers receiving the recycled products.”

A startup transforms abandoned wind turbines into useful concrete
Wind turbines are difficult to recycle once expired.

The company now estimates that it will begin commercial-scale blade recycling in the second half of 2023. To achieve this, it is building a new facility in Fairfax, southwest of Cedar Rapids.

Once its new facility is fully operational, REGEN Fiber speculates that it can successfully recycle more than 30,000 tons of shredded blade materials annually.

The recycling of new wind turbine blades is already underway at its Des Moines facility. These discarded materials are processed into fibers that can be used for asphalt and composite products.

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To add to the company’s efficiency, Travero transports the turbine blades and the resulting recycled products across North America.

Other exciting concepts for recycling and reusing wind turbines

The concept of recycling old wind turbines is not entirely new. In October of 2021, the Re-Wind Network made headlines for recycling wind turbine blades into bike shelters in Denmark.

At the time, the organization was praised for finding a sustainable way of dealing with discarded composite materials. 

In February of 2022, reports surfaced of yet another use of turbine blades by the same organization, this time to construct a bridge in Ireland.

Meanwhile, in August of 2022, scientists at Michigan State University created a distinct turbine material that can be revived and recycled into new turbine blades or a variety of other products, including countertops, car taillights, diapers, and even gummy bears.

The innovation offers hope that the problem of wind turbine waste can be tackled at its source making the structures fully recyclable and avoiding the need to have them take up ample space in landfills.