A major project to develop wind turbine blade recycling in Britain for the first time has been given the go-ahead after winning a UK Government grant.
The £2million three-year project involves a consortium led by Aker Offshore Wind and Scottish researchers, with the aim of ensuring a more sustainable future for the global wind industry and the wider composites manufacturing industry – accelerating the drive towards net zero emissions and waste and creating new skills and job opportunities in the UK.
The pilot will now get underway to develop a commercially viable solution, overseen by industry lead Aker Offshore Wind, trade body Composites UK, and researchers at the University of Strathclyde’s Advanced Composites Group and Lightweight Manufacturing Centre, which is a part of the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland Group.
Other academic and industry partners include Nottingham University, global waste management firm SUEZ, composite distributor GRP Solutions and composite part manufacturer Cubis.
The project is set up to commercialise a revolutionary method developed by the University of Strathclyde to separate the glass-fibre and resin components in composites and recover the glass-fibre component which can then be reprocessed, moulded, and reused in other industries, such as the motor trade and the construction industry.
Innovate UK, the UK Government’s innovation agency, has awarded £1.3 million to the project, with Aker Offshore Wind contributing more than £500,000 to make the project a reality.
At present, when giant turbine blades reach the end of their working lives, there are only two options for managing the waste: send them to a landfill or to waste-to-energy plants where they are combusted at significant energy cost.
The environmental benefits from this project cannot be understated as waste from wind turbine blades alone are expected to reach around 2 million tonnes globally by 2050, and UK volumes of composite waste already exceed 100,000 tonnes per year.
Aker Offshore Wind has pledged its support to trade body WindEurope’s call for a Europe-wide landfill ban on decommissioned wind turbine blades by 2025 and considers this project a crucial step towards setting a new standard for the industry.
With thousands of turbines being erected and built as part of the transition away from fossil fuels, the project partners applied to the UK Government for support to position the UK as the global leader in blade recycling and provide a futureproofed solution for turning waste into new resources.
The pilot project will now put this into action, with the aim to make recycling of composite parts the norm and ensure the wind industry is a driving force for a new circular economy.
Professor Sir Jim McDonald, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Strathclyde, said: “Wind energy is a key component of the transition to net zero and it is essential that the technology and materials that provide renewable energy are as sustainable as they can be.
“As we have seen at COP26 in Glasgow, a global move to renewable, sustainable sources of energy will help to make some of the biggest advances in the quest to tackle climate change. At Strathclyde, we have developed novel processes for recycling and reusing wind turbine blades, which will help to reduce waste in the renewables sector and wider industry.
“This project, and our partnership with Aker Offshore Wind, are examples of the research and industrial engagement which has placed Strathclyde at the forefront of innovation in renewable energy and composites sustainability.”
UK Government Minister for Scotland Malcolm Offord said: “Offshore wind is playing an important role in our plans to reach net zero, particularly in Scotland. It’s great news that this funding will support the development of wind turbine blade recycling, helping prevent blades ending up in landfill and furthering our green ambitions.
“In line with the goals agreed at COP26, the UK Government is investing in research and innovation projects right across the UK to help create a greener future.”
Sian Lloyd-Rees, managing director of Aker Offshore Wind UK, said: “This project will be an important piece in our drive to accelerate the move to net zero waste and emissions and demonstrates Aker Offshore Wind’s commitment to sustainability across the lifecycle of a wind project; all while investing in Scotland and the UK to build a more sustainable future for decades to come.
“At COP26 we heard the urgent call for action and this planned innovation will answer that call to secure tangible solutions for circular business models. The Innovate UK grant will make blade recycling a firm reality, building on the expertise of the researchers at Strathclyde University and our decades of experience at Aker Offshore Wind to create a commercially-viable green solution.”
Malcolm Forsyth, sustainability manager at Composites UK and overall project leader, said: “This project is a vital step towards establishing a commercial recycling route for composite materials in the UK and beyond, covering both wind turbine blades and several other applications in the construction and transport sectors.
“Composite materials combining glass-fibre and polymer resin systems, have a huge role to play in enabling the UK economy to transition to net zero and we need effective recycling at end of life to ensure that composite materials achieve high levels of circularity in future.
“Composites UK and all the project partners are very excited that this break-through technology scale-up project has now been funded by the UK government and will make the recycling of glass-fibre composites a commercial reality in the UK in the years to come.”