Street furniture and concrete made of a wind turbine blade? A second life to used materials | Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Gdańsk University of Technology

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Date added: 2023-04-18

Street furniture and concrete made of a wind turbine blade? A second life to used materials

Four smiling people.
Prof. Mikołaj Miśkiewicz, prof. Magdalena Rucka,  Monika Zielińska, PhD, Eng. i Marzena Kurpińska, PhD, Eng. Photo: Krzysztof Krzempek/Gdańsk Tech 
Playground equipment, bicycle shelters, aggregate for construction - an interdepartmental research team from Gdansk University of Technology is looking for ways to recycle end-of-life wind turbine blades as energy-efficiently as possible. The researchers hope that the solutions developed will not only help to protect the environment, but also increase the availability of building materials.

Research team from the Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Faculty of Architecture, managed by Prof. Magdalena Rucka, is working on a wind turbine blade recycling system allowing to reuse them in construction industry and architecture.

Repurposing valuable material

Wind turbine blades are primarily made of polymer composite material.

– They are mainly layered structures, consisting of glass and carbon fabrics and resin. Due to their high fiber content, they have a very high strength-to-weight ratio and excellent load-bearing capacity and durability, but these features simultaneously make them difficult to recycle – says Prof. Magdalena Rucka, the project manager, head of the Department of Mechanics of Materials and Structures.

The blades are designed to last an average of 20-25 years, and should be disposed of after they reach the end of their lifespan.

­– Currently, they end up in landfills or are recycled using mechanical, thermal or chemical methods. Many of these approaches are energy-intensive and environmentally unfriendly. In our project, we want to propose a comprehensive approach to blade recycling that is as low-energy as possible compared to current methods, which will take advantage of the high load-bearing capacity of the blade and, as a result, contribute to reducing current problems in the construction industry, including those related to the limited availability of certain materials – explains Prof. Magdalena Rucka.

Bicycle shelter, bridge girder, concrete binder

The project was divided into three simultaneously conducted scopes, in which  researcher teams will develop a methodology for several variants of wind turbine blade repurposing.

The first scope of the project, managed by  Monika Zielińska, PhD, will be conducted by architects.

– We plan to organize an open architectural competition for a concept of repurposing wind turbine blades for elements of street furniture, including a bicycle shelter which could be placed in our campus – says Monika Zielińska.

In the second scope, managed by Mikołaj Miśkiewicz, DSc,  profesor at Gdańsk Tech, the researchers will estimate the possibility of using fragments of the blades as load bearing elements in construction and infrastructure, and plan to develop, inter alia, a concept of a pedestrian bridge girder.

–  Currently, there are no systematized types of wind turbine blades, each is an independent structure and can have different applications, so we plan to develop a methodology for proceeding with them – says Prof. Mikołaj Miśkiewicz. – To begin with, we will evaluate the condition of the blades after reaching their lifespan. If all or most of the blade can be used for structural applications, taking into account possible damage and delamination of the material, we will be able to make structural elements and street furniture elements.

Among the potential applications for larger fragments of the material, the researchers also mention e.g. all kinds of roofing, including passageways, fences, climbing walls, foundation structures.

– However, if the condition of the blade that we receive for processing does not allow it to be used in this way, we have recognized the directions of proceeding that will enable us to grind the blade and use it as aggregate – adds Prof. Miśkiewicz.

The third scope of the project, conducted under the supervision of Marzena Kurpińska, PhD, will consist in assessing the possibility of using ground parts of blades as a substitute for concrete aggregate. The researchers estimate that ground blades could contribute up to 40 percent of the volume of natural aggregate used to make concrete mix in engineering structures, while maintaining the strength properties and durability of concrete.

– Extraction of natural aggregates and the refining them by washing and crushing for the production of concrete requires a lot of energy. Moreover, in some regions there are problems with the availability of some aggregate fractions. We see the possibility of replacing some of the aggregate with recycled blades. The initial studies we conducted are promising. We still have time-consuming durability tests ahead of us, as a result of which we will be able to determine the usefulness of the cement composite modified in this way - says Marzena Kurpinska, PhD.

New approach needed

The researchers emphasize that the disposal of wind turbine blades is a problem that the world is already facing.

 – We anticipate that in Poland, due to the development of wind energy, including offshore, this problem will also increase, and then we will propose ready-made solutions – explains Prof. Magdalena Rucka. – Blade recycling is an important topic that is discussed in many centers around the world, but many aspects are not yet fully explored or can be approached in a different way, which our research is focused on.


„Circular economy for wind turbine blades”

Funding: PLN 995 830