This Recyclable Resin Makes Wind Turbines Way More Sustainable

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May. 13 2019, Updated 4:45 p.m. ET

One important aspect of renewable energy is how these sources are created. They provide a lot of benefits to the environment when in use, but if they aren’t made sustainably, there’s room for improvement. We’ve seen solar cell improvement and battery backup technology to extend renewable generation, and now Vanderbilt is looking into recyclable resin for wind turbines.

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With the production of wind turbines today, there’s a lot of heat needed to create the fiberglass blades. In many cases, these factories are not running on renewable energy in order to do this. At the end of their lifespan, there isn’t a whole lot of material that can be recycled when they’re taken down.

As the wind energy industry grows, turbines will create a lot of waste over time with their short life cycles. They have an expectancy to last between 20 and 25 years. Even though they can pay for themselves over the first 15 years, there’s additional costs to dispose of the old parts since they can’t be recycled.

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Vanderbilt University is hoping to create wind turbines out of Elium, a new resin that can be used for wind turbines. Instead of using energy for heat, the production process creates a chemical reaction that makes things hot enough. Once it’s time for these parts to come down, they can be easily melted and recycled. 

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“What better application to look at than wind power, where we think about energy and sustainability foremost in our minds? It’s a grand challenge in composites manufacturing,” Doug Adams, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Vanderbilt who’s led the study, said in the school report.

According to Treehugger, the resin could be used in vehicles like airplanes and cars, other products that we’re looking to make more sustainably. However, there’s a clear focus at making wind turbines more renewable based on how quickly the industry is going to grow. 

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The American Wind Energy Association notes that the wind energy industry had a 20 percent increase in jobs back in 2016. For this reason, Vanderbilt is looking to scale up their renewable resin to full-size turbine blades. Ultimately, this research hopes to improve wind turbines in the future in terms of lower manufacturing and energy costs with better reliability.

While renewable sources already have benefits over traditional fossil fuels, it doesn’t hurt to improve upon these sustainable solutions. This new resin provides more efficient energy usage and will cut back on the waste that wind turbines will generate.

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