The three-year project involves a consortium that includes trade body Composites UK and researchers at Strathclyde University’s Advanced Composites Group and Lightweight Manufacturing Centre, part of the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland Group.
Its aim is to ensure a sustainable future for the global wind sector and wider composites manufacturing industry by making recycling of composite parts the norm and ensuring the industry is a ‘driving force for a new circular economy’.
The project will commercialise a method developed by Strathclyde researchers to separate the glass-fibre and resin components in composites and recover the glass-fibre component. This can then be re-processed, moulded and reused in other industries such as automotive and construction.
When giant turbine blades reach end of life, there are currently two options for managing the waste: sending them to landfill, or waste-to-energy plants where they are combusted at significant energy cost.
According to Aker, waste from wind turbine blades alone is expected to reach around two million tonnes globally by 2050, and UK volumes of composite waste already exceed 100,000 tonnes per year.
Aker Offshore Wind has pledged its support to trade body WindEurope’s call for a Europe-wide landfill ban on decommissioned wind turbine blades by 2025, and considers the project a ‘crucial step toward setting a new standard for the industry’.
In a statement, Sian Lloyd-Rees, managing director of Aker Offshore Wind UK said: “This project will be an important piece in our drive to accelerate the move to net zero waste and emissions and demonstrates Aker Offshore Wind's commitment to sustainability across the lifecycle of a wind project, all while investing in Scotland and the UK to build a more sustainable future for decades to come.
“At COP26 we heard the urgent call for action and this planned innovation will answer that call to secure tangible solutions for circular business models.”
Innovate UK has awarded £1.3m to the project, with Aker Offshore Wind contributing over £500,000. Other partners include Nottingham University, waste management firm SUEZ, composite distributor GRP Solutions and composite part manufacturer Cubis.