Recyclable Resin Makes Wind Turbines More Eco-Friendly

Video screen capture. Vanderbilt University / YouTube

When we talk about renewable energy, we most often focus on the amount of energy that any technology can produce, but it's also important to look at how much energy and how many resources go into manufacturing that particular technology.

Researchers are regularly looking into how to make more sustainable solar cells with more abundant materials and through processes that are less energy intensive, but that hasn't extended as much to wind power. Luckily, researchers at Vanderbilt University have taken up that challenge.

Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Doug Adams and his team have been testing a new type of resin for wind turbines called Elium that self cures, making its own heat, and without creating flaws in the fiberglass. The ability to cure at room temperature reduces the energy demand in the manufacturing process.

The resin also allows the fiberglass blades to be recycled at the end of their usable life, which is not possible when using conventional resins.

“What better application to look at than wind power, where we think about energy and sustainability foremost in our minds? It’s a grand challenge in composites manufacturing,” said Adams.

The resin could also be used in other large machine manufacturing like airplanes and cars, but the demand for wind turbines is growing quickly. According to the American Wind Energy Association, there are more than 52,000 grid-scale wind turbines in the U.S. right now with several wind farm projects moving forward.

Using materials that reduce the environmental impact of wind turbines through their life cycle through means a greater net positive energy output by the technology.

The team has so far been testing the resin on components of wind turbine blades, but will now move to doing full-scale tests.