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  • Writer's pictureNed Patton

Bio Based Wind Turbine Blades – A Brief Update

There is a recent article in Composites World that piqued my curiosity so I looked into it some more.  The article is about a new initiative in Europe that is called Blade2Circ (https://www.compositesworld.com/news/blade2circ-project-to-facilitate-sustainable-next-gen-wind-blade-designs?utm_source=Omeda&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=CW+Today+5%2F13%2F2024).  This initiative was started by the Aitiip Technology Center in Zaragoza, Spain.  And it has been joined by many of the major players in the wind turbine industry in the EU. 


The pic above is of the latest large scale fully recyclable and bio-based wind turbine blades from I believe the results of the ZEBRA (Zero wastE Blade ReseArch) project undertaken by LM Wind Power (GE subsidiary). 


ZEBRA is French led consortium initiated in 2020 with membership including Arkema, CANOE, Engie, LM Wind Power, Owens Corning, and SUEZ; and intended to develop an entirely recyclable large scale wind turbine blade using as much plant-based materials as possible.  They were able to achieve a completely recyclable wind turbine blade mainly through the use of some unique plant-based resins that are extremely durable yet fairly easy to recycle with the right catalysts. 


Blade2Circ, initiated on April 1, 2024, is funded by the EU to further develop and commercialize plant-based recyclable composite material technologies that are applicable to large scale wind turbine blades.  Since the Europeans already generate some 72% of the world’s wind-based renewable energy, they have had sustainability of the materials for turbine blades on their minds for over a decade at this point. 


This initiative is focusing largely on the resin systems used for wind turbine blades to make them easier to take apart as well as development of new catalysts and enzymes tailored specifically to the new plant-based resins, rendering them completely recyclable and reusable.  It is also focused on scale up to the point that these new plant-based recyclable resins will completely replace the petroleum-based resins that are used today.


This is just one example of initiatives going on mostly in Europe.  There are a couple more I will mention later, and there is also an ongoing program here in the US.  I talked about the sustainable resin developments funded by NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory – Rocky Flats, Colorado) a while ago.  As of December, 2023 they have successfully built a complete wind turbine blade using their plant-based PECAN (PolyEster Covalently Adaptable Network) resin.  NREL’s resin system is formulated from plant waste, which is something else that I have talked about in this newsletter. 


The PECAN resin is specifically formulated to replace traditional petroleum based epoxy


resins systems and has demonstrated equivalent, and in some areas like resin creep, to have better performance than traditional resin systems.  And the PECAN resin is easily de-polymerizable which makes it recyclable and reusable right at the closest wind turbine blade recycling center to the wind turbine site. 

The NREL researchers are now embarked on building a much larger wind turbine blade to test it against the properties of current large composite wind turbine blades in an effort to scale up their PECAN resin.  This stuff is intended to be a drop-in replacement for current resin systems in wind turbine blades, so their next step is to get it into production and get a blade fabricator or two building large wind turbine blades out of this new easily recyclable resin system.


On the natural fiber front, there is a Canadian startup, INCA Renewable Technologies, that has come up with a hemp fiber based replacement for balsa wood, for use in boats, autos, and wind turbine blades.  They have successfully made a couple of demonstration smaller wind turbine blades out of their new BioBalsa™. 


Inca’s fabrication method is to build up a laminate by putting together mats of hemp fiber and infusing them with a foamed thermoplastic resin.  This makes a very light weight material that has much the same properties as balsa wood and since it is a thermoplastic can be thermally formed.  This makes their BioBalsa usable just like sheet molding compound only much lighter because of the foamed resin and light weight hemp fiber.  They have partnered with Toyota in the automotive sector and Gurit in Switzerland to make a hemp-based product that Gurit can sell into the wind energy, aerospace, and marine industries. 

Finally, there is a conference that is going to be held in Amsterdam at the end of October that is devoted entirely to wind turbine blade recycling.  The 2nd Annual Wind Blade Materials and Recycling Forum is being put on by Lead Vent Group in the Czech Republic and is bringing together all of the shakers and movers in the wind turbine industry to focus entirely on how to recycle the enormous number of wind turbine blades that are going to reach end of life between now and the early 2030’s.  Since, as I stated above, 70% of the planets installed capacity is in Europe, they are the ones with the biggest pile of used wind turbine blades to deal with.

That’s about it for this week.  I hope everyone that reads these posts enjoys them as much as I enjoy writing them.  As usual I will post this first on my website – www.nedpatton.com – as well as on LinkedIn.  And if anyone wants to provide comments to this, I welcome them with open arms.  Comments, criticisms, etc. are all quite welcome.  I really do want to engage in a conversation with all of you about composites because we can learn so much from each other as long as we share our own perspectives. 

I also wanted to remind everyone that I will be speaking at the SAMPE conference in Long Beach next week (Wednesday, May 22).  I’m going to be talking about the same subject as this post – composites sustainability.  Maybe I can help the industry a bit again, maybe even rattle a few cages like what happened at the Carbon Fiber Conference in Salt Lake.  One can only hope.  Anyway, for anyone that is interested in materials and process engineering, SAMPE will be a great conference.  And they will have a really great exhibit as well. 

And, finally, I still need to plug my book, so here’s the plug.  The book pretty much covers the watershed in composites, starting with a brief history of composites, then introducing the Periodic Table and why Carbon is such an important and interesting element.  The book was published and made available last August, and is available both on Amazon and from McFarland Books – my publisher.  However, the best place to get one is to go to my website and buy one.  I will send you a signed copy for the same price you would get charged on Amazon, except that I charge $8 shipping.  Anyway, here’s the link to get your signed copy:  https://www.nedpatton.com/product-page/the-string-and-glue-of-our-world-signed-copy.  And as usual, here’s a picture of the book, for those of you just tuning in. 



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