How chemists could give new life to old wind turbine blades
But when it’s time to decommission one, a wind turbine’s strength can become a weakness. Because the blades are designed to be so durable, the materials used to build them can’t currently be recycled. And about 43 million tons of these blades will be decommissioned by 2050. The new work describes a way to recover the main components of wind turbine blades, breaking down the plastic that holds them together without destroying the material’s primary building blocks.
To break down the epoxy materials, researchers submerged them in a mixture of solvents and added a catalyst, which helped accelerate the chemical reaction. They heated everything up to 160 °C (320 °F) for between 16 hours and several days, until the target material was fully broken down. After some initial tests, the researchers used their method to chew up a one-inch-square chunk of a wind turbine blade. After six days, the result was nearly spotless glass fibers (and a supporting metal sheet that runs through most turbine blades) and vials of ingredients that could be used again in new materials.