In recent years, composite materials have been used to construct large turbine blades which are connected to wind turbines. These are as large as a wingspan of an aircraft, sometimes larger, meaning that transportation costs have increased also. Due to the increasing costs, it’s better to leave replaced aging blades on the ground.
The same can be seen with solar farms also. Solar panels are almost impossible to recycle and distributed power and micro-grids are difficult to dispose of since they rely on batteries.
But since green technology is all about renewables, this contradiction cannot carry on for much longer. This is where Head of NREL, Martin Keller, expressed that he’s developing a way to address this issue. He states:
The reuse of energy materials needs to be part of their design.
NREL’s main focus has been and still is the adoption of different green technologies worldwide. The composite materials researched helped the growth of enormous turbine blades which are now being left on the ground after their use, but now Keller believes in a world where waste is eliminated and recycled materials can be used over again.
NREL is currently researching alternative materials to minimize the waste they create. The current composite materials are light and strong which enable efficient energy capture, but according to Keller, these are impossible to recycle.
To fix this issue is to develop turbine blades from thermoplastics which can be molded when heated and become hard when cooled. These blades could be built on-site and repurposed when their usage time has come to end.
A Synthetic Enzyme Engineered to Produce Stronger Materials
Keller’s own words:
Why not use new materials so that you could bring old wind blades back and recycle them?
The NREL research team has begun focusing on biological recycling rather than the traditional mechanical recycling and with these new procedures, they are working on processes to make recycled plastic stronger than the original item.
Since NREL’s portfolio features the reuse and recycling of plastics, they have found a way to use PET (polyethylene terephthalate) and create an even more efficient, synthetic version of an enzyme that can break down PET, which is not as degrading as before, making the material useful and more valuable than before. Now, with this new synthetic enzyme, originating from bacteria found in Japanese plant soil, the deconstruction process will allow composite materials to be produced and come out stronger than before. The only issue as of now is the ability to prove the enzyme’s utility at scale.
According to Keller,
The next few years will be crucial to see what new business models emerge from all of this. Recycling technology is still in the early stages of development, and there is huge potential to do more. We are living in a very exciting time.
Image Source by Financial Times