Greencoat UK Wind, an infrastructure fund, has extended its support to engineering researchers at Imperial College London with an £111,000 grant. The funding is designated for the development of a tool that will aid in evaluating the condition of wind turbine blades at the end of their service life, enabling informed decisions on sustainable disposal or repurposing.
As a significant number of the initial wind farms in the UK and Europe approach the culmination of their intended operational lifespan, the question of managing the decommissioned turbine components becomes increasingly pertinent. While the majority of turbine parts, such as steel and aluminum, can be efficiently recycled, challenges arise with materials like the fiberglass used in blades.
Various technologies and processes are under exploration to address the complexities of recycling fiberglass, including the possibility of repurposing and reusing these materials. Nonetheless, one aspect that often goes unconsidered in the end-of-life recycling process is the internal damage and material degradation that turbine blades accumulate during their 25 to 30 years of operation.
The research initiative, supported by Greencoat, spans three years and is under the leadership of Dr. Soraia Pimenta. The primary objective is to develop an end-of-life decision-making tool capable of predicting the extent of damage that a blade has endured throughout its operational life. This tool will serve as a valuable resource for the wind industry, offering insights into the optimal end-of-life pathways for turbine materials.
Dr. Pimenta elaborated on the project's goals, stating, “A crucial challenge in the effective recycling and repurposing of wind turbine blades at the end of their operational life is determining the extent of damage that has accumulated within the materials over time and assessing its implications for potential second-life applications. Our research will address this challenge by introducing advanced methods for structural analysis, material modeling, and life-cycle assessment, culminating in a comprehensive tool for the end-of-life management of wind turbine blade materials.” This initiative aligns with the broader mission of advancing sustainability and resource efficiency in the renewable energy sector.