Engineers are building bridges with recycled wind turbine blades

Bringing new life to aging wind power technology.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Installing the blade bridgeThe Re-Wind Network

Last October, the Re-Wind Network made headlines for recycling wind turbine blades  into bike shelters in Denmark.

The organization was praised for finding a sustainable way of dealing with the discarded composite materials as they are not particularly easy to process as waste. 

This week, The Verge reported on yet another use of turbine blades by the same organization, this time to construct a bridge in Ireland.

Bridges made of wind turbine blades

According to the sustainable energy authority of Ireland, wind power is currently the largest source of renewable energy in the country. In 2020, wind provided over 86 percent of its renewable electricity while accounting for an impressive 36 percent of its total electricity demand. 

While this is good news for clean energy advocates, these turbines are not without drawbacks, as the materials used to construct them simply don't biodegrade very well. Wind turbines 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.

Instead of letting them sit idle, the Re-Wind Network found a better use for these blades. The organization, headed by the team at Munster Technological University and University College Cork, successfully constructed a "blade bridge" on the Midelton to Youghal greenway in County Cork, Ireland on January 26, 2022.

Recyling wind turbines a no-brainer

“It was a no-brainer that this needed to be investigated and trialed, at least,” civil engineer and member of the Re-Wind Network Kieran Ruane told The Verge

The bridge is only the second of its kind in the world, the first having been installed in western Poland last October. Such projects are welcome news as they anticipate a problem that is only going to get worse over time.

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When wind turbines come to the end of their lifespan, their non-biodegradable blades take up an inordinate amount of space in landfills. There is currently one alternative solution that addresses this: incinerating them for energy. This process is far from envrionementally friendly, though, and can at least partially offset the greenhouse gas emission savings they were built to engender. 

Since the blades of decommissioned turbines have decades of life left in them, they can and should be repurposed for other uses. So far, we've seen them recycled into bike shelters and bridges. Other applications are almost certain to follow, and we can't wait to see them. 

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