Researchers work to make wind turbines recyclable

The researchers are initially focusing on designing a new binding agent for fiberglass.

In the DreamWind project, researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark are developing a chemical substance that will make it possible to separate composite materials from each other. This means that fibreglass components from wind turbines could be recyclable in the future. Aarhus University will collaborate with partners including Vestas Wind Systems A/S and the Danish Technological Institute on this project.

 “Components made of fiberglass have to go through a difficult procedure before they can be reused. This entails separating the glass from the plastic, and you can only do this if you heat the material for a long time at 600 degrees Celsius, which is far from profitable – from both an energy and an economic point of view,” said professor Mogens Hinge, department of engineering at Aarhus University.

The acute problem in the wind turbine industry inspired a research team to develop a solvent with the opposite properties, so that instead of binding materials to each other, it can separate them chemically with limited or no heating at all. The researchers are initially focusing on designing an agent for fiberglass, and they say the first laboratory results are promising. The idea is that the glass should be reused when it has been cleaned – for new fiberglass components for structures such as wind turbines, aircraft or cars.

“This way, we can retain the value of the material instead of just discarding it. The technology holds great potential for recycling,” Hinge said. “It’s expensive to manufacture fiberglass that can’t be recycled. It’s expensive to drive round with blades when they have to be scrapped. It’s expensive to smash them to pieces and bury them. Chemical research can provide the industry with an enormous boost of innovation."

Innovation Fund Denmark has invested a total of DKK 17.6 million ($2.7 million) in the project, which in the long run can influence the recycling of composite materials outside the wind turbine industry.

“With the investment from Innovation Fund Denmark, we now have an opportunity to develop smart new materials that can change shape or separate as required when they’re no longer in use. This is an important project that could have a major impact on the way in which materials are recycled in the future,” said professor Kim Daasbjerg, department of chemistry at Aarhus University.

The parties expect to be ready with a chemical compound for separating fiberglass within four years.