This is a project spearheaded by civil engineers from the University of Cork. Last December, three 12-metre blades from the Belfast wind farm were trucked to their R&D centre for a series of tests. Their aim is to use these used blades to build a pedestrian bridge in which they will be used instead of the traditional steel beams, the main horizontal supports for this type of structure.
Converting to minimise waste
The bridge is currently under construction and should be installed on a greenway by June 2021. If, as the scientists hope, this experiment is successful, it could be the first of many new structures of this type to be built, first in Ireland and then around the world. With 11,000 tonnes of blades expected to be retired in Ireland over the next 4 years, there should be enough material available to be given a second life in this way.
Although wind turbines made from fibre-reinforced plastic are extremely durable and designed to last for around 20 years, the blades are often removed earlier to be replaced with longer blades capable of producing more energy.
Innovative solutions being explored
For the time being, recycling the blades is proving complicated. Hence the studies carried out by engineers from the Cork Institute of Technology, in collaboration with Queen's University of Belfast and Georgia Tech in the USA. The project, called Re-wind, aims to find a socially acceptable method of re-using and recycling the non-biodegradable composite materials used in wind turbine blades and thus reduce waste from the wind energy sector.
Many re-use projects are under consideration, especially in the field of civil engineering: using the blades as breakwaters to prevent coastal erosion, as noise barriers on motorways, as dividers in skate parks. Ideas abound.
Although the County Cork footbridge will be the first infrastructure to use these used blades, it should be closely followed by the "Blade pole", a project aiming to reuse wind turbines as large electrical transmission towers. To test the idea, three dismantled blades will be installed as power towers at a Kansas wind farm next summer.