Scientists at Michigan State University say they have found a way to recycle wind turbine blades into gummy bears, nappies, and other everyday items.
The fibreglass blades of a wind turbine have provide difficult to repurpose, with many ending up in landfill at the end of their life cycle, leading to concerted efforts to find ways to recycle them.
But Michigan State scientists say they have created a new kind of turbine resin which can be continuously recast into new blades, or other materials including plastic, car taillights, kitchen countertops, and even nappies and candy.
Researchers developed a type of composite thermoplastic resin which can be dissolved at the end of its use cycle and “used over and over again in an infinite loop”, according to John Dorgan, PhD, a researcher at Michigan State University.
Dorgan, who is presenting the work at the 2022 Meeting of the American Chemical Society, says the novel resin was strong and durable enough to be used in turbines, and cars, but could also be applied to a range of other everyday items.
After combining the resin with different sorts of minerals, the researchers produced a cultured stone which could be used in kitchens and bathrooms.
The team were also able to produce a food-grade compound from the dissolved resin, which – when purified – can be used in sports drinks and sweets.
“We recovered food-grade potassium lactate and used it to make gummy bear candies, which I ate,” Dorgan says.
Those concerned about the prospect of eating a sweet sourced form the blade of a turbine need not worry.
“A carbon atom derived from a plant, like corn or grass, is no different from a carbon atom that came from a fossil fuel,” Dorgan says.
“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 to foodstuffs.”
The research may help address the stubborn wastage problem of a renewables-based economy, amid global projections that 40 million tonnes of wind blade waste could end up in landfill by the middle of the century.
“The beauty of our resin system is that at the end of its use cycle, we can dissolve it, and that releases it from whatever matrix it’s in so that it can be used over and over again,” says Dorgan.
“That’s the goal of the circular economy.”