Old wind turbine blades could be recycled and reused under plans being developed by Aker Offshore Wind, Aker Horizons and the University of Strathclyde.
The three organisations have signed a Memorandum of Understanding aimed at driving forward the development of recovery processes for used glass fibre products, including a novel process developed at Strathclyde.
Glass-reinforced polymer composites (GRP), used in wind turbine blades around the world, is recognized as a hard-to-break-down source of pollution. Today nearly all thermoset GRP scrap generated in the UK and Europe goes to landfill or energy from waste.
The volume of GRP scrap is set to increase substantially, with end-of-life wind turbine blades likely to be a major source of GRP scrap in the UK by mid-2030s.
Findings from the University of Strathclyde indicate a global increase of wind turbine blade waste from around 400,000 tons per annum in 2030 to around two million tons by 2050.
Therefore, recyclability and recycled content are increasingly important in construction processes. In many cases increased durability and lower weight would also make GRP a more sustainable solution in the long term.
“At Aker Offshore Wind, sustainability is about making business decisions that add value to our company, our stakeholders and society," said Astrid Skarheim Onsum, Chief Executive Officer of Aker Offshore Wind.
“Industrial waste is a challenge in most industries, and by teaming up with the University of Strathclyde we have an opportunity to further develop a novel solution to a growing issue and apply it at scale across our segment and beyond.”
Dr Liu Yang, Head of Advanced Composites Group at the University of Strathclyde, said: “This is a challenge not only for the wind power industry, but for all industries reliant on GRP materials in their production and manufacturing.
“Retaining and redeploying the embodied energy in the fibres is essential as we move to a more circular economy.”
Under the terms of the MoU, the parties will scale up and commercialise a unique process developed at lab scale by Strathclyde for thermal recovery and post-treatment of glass fibres from GRP scrap to achieve near-virgin quality glass fibres.
Drawing on decades of industrial innovation and operationalising novel technologies, Aker Horizons and Aker Offshore Wind will contribute with funding and relevant competencies to bring the solution into an industrial setting. Furthermore, broad expertise in chemical processing and carbon capture within the wider Aker group, will ensure the industrialisation to be safe and sustainable.
Developed by the Strathclyde’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, the GRP Recycling can turn composite waste into re-usable fibre reinforcement and could serve 50% of global glass fibre demand if implemented worldwide. As the process produces both mid- to high-value fibres, a broad spectrum of the market can be covered, ranging from less demanding to high performance products.
Recycled GRP will also be attractive to industries outside the wind power space and can be tailored for a range of different composite applications. Today, GRP (or glass fibre) is used in sectors like car manufacturing, maritime vessels, oil and gas production, construction and sporting goods.