Inspenet, September 15, 2023.
Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast are converting wind turbine blades , which typically end up in landfills or incinerators, into walkways that have the capacity to support up to 30 tonnes.
The expansion of wind farms has been notable around the world, but this trend poses a significant environmental challenge today. Furthermore, it is projected that, considering an average useful life of 20 years, by 2042 around 8.6 million tons of blades will have been dismantled worldwide .
To address this challenge, the “Re-Wind” transatlantic research network has been established, the purpose of which is to discover new ways to reuse wind turbine blades . Through the collaboration of experts in geography, design architecture and engineering, it has been found that using only two, it is possible to create a bridge.
Members of the collaborative network include Queen’s University Belfast, University College Cork, Georgia Institute of Technology, City University of New York and Munster Technological University Cork.
A new use for wind turbine blades
So far, the team has successfully completed the construction of two walkways in Ireland. These bridges, made from two wind turbine blades, are known as “BladeBridges” and underwent extensive testing in May. In addition, a third bridge is currently under construction in Georgia, specifically in Atlanta.
In addition to the bridges, the team has also been investigating the possibility of using them to create bus stops, barriers, street furniture and telecommunications towers.
Jennifer McKinley is Professor of Geography in the School of Natural and Built Environment. She leads the project at Queen’s University Belfast and says: “I’m delighted that working together has allowed us to find a way to reuse wind turbine blades . This can only be a good thing, since without intervention they would end up in landfill or would have to be incinerated. With so many about to reach the end of their useful life, we have to find a way to transform them into something useful.”
Likewise, in the construction of the bridge at Draperstown, computer-aided design (CAD) was used and bolts were incorporated into the wind turbine blades. However, concerns were raised among researchers about the possibility of these being damaged by adding additional weight. Tests were carried out in which a load of 34 blocks, each weighing 1,100 kg, was applied and the results were satisfactory: the bridge withstood a much greater amount of weight than anticipated.
For his part, Kenny McDonald, technical director of the School of Natural and Built Environment at Queen’s University, said: “We designed the bridge to avoid failures and during the tests there were no tears, no failures at all. “We kept carrying these concrete blocks and we didn’t get the bridge to fail.”
Three of the researchers from University College Cork and Munster Technological University have set up a company based on the results of the Re-Wind research, which they have called BladeBridge . This company has dedicated itself to exploring different applications for wind turbine blades.
Notably, the bridge located in Cork was completed in January 2022 and was funded through the Project Ireland 2040 initiative of the Irish Ministry of Transport. The second bridge received funding from Science Foundation Ireland, the Northern Ireland Department of the Economy and the National Science Foundation of the United States through the US-Ireland R&D Partnership research collaboration.