Thanks to $1.1 million in funding from the Department of Energy’s Small Business Technology Transfer program and Wind Energy Technologies Office, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is developing a new technology for the large-scale recycling of wind turbine blades into new recycled composites. This technology recovers the glass fiber from reinforced polymer composites while limiting mechanical degradation of the fiber during the reclamation process. In turn, this allows the recycled fiber to be reused in new composite applications such as vehicle lightweighting, other renewable energy systems components, and performance sports equipment.
“It’s not a mystery why wind energy is now America’s largest domestic source of renewable energy,” said Ryan Ginder, research assistant professor in the Tickle College of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering, and lead researcher on the project. “Wind power is clean, economical, and readily available right here in the USA, but it still has a problem; to make those giant iconic blades, wind turbine manufacturers rely on advanced polymer composites,” Ginder said. “These materials can survive some of mother nature’s most brutal forces, but eventually do wear out and end up in the landfill. As the wind industry grows and waste blade levels climb into the tens, hundreds of thousands of tons and beyond, a better end of life solution is needed rather than simply piling them at the dump.”