What’s going on
Scientists propose to make wind turbine blades from a new material that can be recycled into a myriad of common items.
why does it matter
It is difficult and expensive to recycle standard wind turbine blades made from fiberglass, so retired equipment typically ends up in a landfill.
Even wind power, arguably the most established way of generating green power, has an Achilles’ heel.
The tall towers that draw power from the wind are covered with huge turbine blades, and these blades have to be replaced from time to time. Therefore, a considerable amount of old equipment must be disposed of, and in recent years, experts have debated whether such a provision meets the ecological criteria.
Quite simply, the concern is whether wind turbine blades are recyclable. If not, perhaps dumping retired blades in landfills negates the presumed sustainability of the system in the first place. But it is a difficult situation. These blades are usually made of fiberglass, a really difficult material to cut, transport and reuse in other things.
Although some experts have been successful in recycling the energy capturing tool, such as US startup Global Fiberglass Solutionswho used them to create 3D printing raw material, Statistics show that most of the timeartifacts are simply added to garbage heaps that release harmful gases into the atmosphere and invade natural wildlife habitats. Why? In the end it is cheaper.
However, scientists at Michigan State University, on Monday, offered their blueprints for an innovative way of approaching this problem. They developed a new form of material for wind turbines that combines glass fibers with synthetic and plant-derived polymers, which refer to long chains of molecules. The mixture is called composite resin, and its hype lies in the fact that it can be recycled much more easily than pure fiberglass.
Oh, and here’s the best part: It can also be made into yummy gummy bears.
“The beauty of our resin system is that at the end of its use cycle, we can dissolve it, and that frees it from whatever matrix it’s in so it can be used over and over again in an infinite loop,” John Dorgan, , a chemical engineer at MSU, who will present the team’s work at the fall meeting of the American Chemical Society, in a news release. “That is the goal of the circular economy.”
Turn turbines into treats
Basically, the new resin in the kit can be separated into its constituent parts when its job as a wind turbine structure is complete. Crucially, this means that unwieldy fiberglass bits can be eliminated. The resulting GOOP can then be reformulated into new wind turbines as well as a wide variety of other materials. And I mean wide.
It simply depends on which of the components of the mixture you decide to extract and manipulate.
When the researchers digested the resin in an alkaline solution, for example, they received an acrylic substance that can be used to make car windows and taillights. Raise the temperature during digestion and that produces a super absorbent polymer, instead, one often required when making diapers.
This resin can also be reincarnated as household countertops when combined with various minerals. “We recently made a bathroom sink out of the cultured stone, so we know it works,” Dorgan said. And the dissolved material can also be combined with plastics, leading to more luxury items like laptop covers and power tools.
“We recovered food-grade potassium lactate and used it to make gummy bear candy, which I ate,” Dorgan said. Not a fan of Haribo? This chemical can also be made into sports drinks similar to Gatorade.
And if the idea of eating a gummy version or a fruity drink concoction built from an old wind turbine disgusts you, Dorgan emphasizes that “a carbon atom derived from a plant, such as corn or grass, is no different from a carbon atom that comes from a fossil fuel…it’s all part of the global carbon cycle, and we’ve shown that we can go from biomass in the field to durable plastic materials and back into food.”
However, it is also important to note that the team has so far only made a prototype of their invention. And to get from prototype to final product, Dorgan explained, there is a small limitation: “There is not enough of the bioplastic that we are using to satisfy this market, so there needs to be a considerable volume of production online if we are online. I’m going to start making wind turbines with these materials.”
But should that hurdle be cleared, we may enter an era where our MacBook cases, iPhone charging cables, rugged kitchen robberies, and even jellied snacks are mixed with the remnants of a veteran blade that once once lived among the clouds.
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