September 28, 2022

Scientists say wind turbine blades can be recycled into rubber bears. Wind power

Scientists say the next generation of wind turbine blades can be recycled into gummy bears at the end of service.

Researchers at Michigan State University have made a composite resin for blades by combining fiberglass with a plant-derived polymer and a synthetic polymer. Once the blades reach the end of their life, the materials can be broken down and recycled to make new products including turbine blades — and chewable candies.

Wind energy is one of the predominant forms of renewable energy. However, turbine blades, usually made of fiberglass, can be as long as half a football field and cause disposal problems, as many are dumped in landfills when they reach the end of their use cycle.

To combat waste, researchers have engineered a new form of resin. Digestion of the resin in an alkaline solution results in potassium lactate, which can be purified and made into desserts and sports drinks.

“We recovered dietary potassium lactate and used it to make gummy bear candy, which I ate,” said John Dorgan, one of the authors of the research paper.

The alkaline digester also released poly (methyl methacrylate), or PMMA, a common acrylic material used in car windows and taillights.

When eating rubber bears derived from wind turbines, Dorgan says, “A carbon atom derived from a plant, such as corn or grass, is no different from a carbon atom that came from fossil fuels. It’s all part of the global carbon cycle, and we’ve shown that we can move from mass field vitality to durable plastics and back to food.”

He added, “The beauty of our resin system is that at the end of its use cycle, we can dissolve it, and this frees it from whatever matrix it is in so that it can be used over and over in an infinite loop. This is the goal of the circular economy.”

The researchers will present their findings Tuesday at a meeting of the American Chemical Society. They plan to make some code for field testing.