By Ian McConnell

The recycling and re-use of old wind turbine blades is the focus of a collaboration between Oslo-listed Aker Offshore Wind and the University of Strathclyde.

The partners noted that glass-reinforced polymer (GRP) composites, used in wind turbine blades around the world, were recognised as “a hard-to-break-down source of pollution”. They said: “Today nearly all thermoset GRP scrap generated in the UK and Europe goes to landfill or energy from waste.”

Aker Offshore Wind, its majority owner Aker Horizons, and the University of Strathclyde have signed a memorandum of understanding aimed at “driving forward the development of recovery processes for used glass fibre products, including a novel process developed at Strathclyde”.

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The partners said: “Findings from the University of Strathclyde indicate a global increase of wind turbine blade waste from around 400,000 tons per annum in 2030 to around two million tons by 2050.

“Recyclability and recycled content are increasingly important in construction processes. In many cases increased durability and lower weight would also make GRP a more sustainable solution in the long term.”

The parties will scale up and commercialise a “unique process” developed at laboratory scale by the University of Strathclyde for thermal recovery and post-treatment of glass fibres from GRP scrap “to achieve near-virgin quality glass fibres”. Investment company Aker Horizons and Aker Offshore Wind will contribute “funding and relevant competencies to bring the solution into an industrial setting”.

The project partners noted recycled GRP would also be attractive to “industries outside the wind power space”. They added that GRP, or glass fibre, is used in sectors including car manufacturing, maritime vessels, oil and gas production, construction, and sporting goods.

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Astrid Skarheim Onsum, chief executive officer of Aker Offshore Wind, said: “Industrial waste is a challenge in most industries, and by teaming up with the University of Strathclyde we have an opportunity to further develop a novel solution to a growing issue and apply it at scale across our segment and beyond.”

Liu Yang, head of the advanced composites group at the University of Strathclyde, said: “This is a challenge not only for the wind power industry, but for all industries reliant on GRP materials in their production and manufacturing. Retaining and redeploying the embodied energy in the fibres is essential as we move to a more circular economy.”