Wind turbine blades could be recycled into gummy bears, scientists say

Researchers design composite resin for blades that can be broken down to make new products including sweets

The next generation of wind turbine blades could be recycled into gummy bears at the end of their service, scientists have said.

Researchers at Michigan State University have made a composite resin for the blades by combining glass fibres with a plant-derived polymer and a synthetic one. Once the blades have reached the end of their lifespan the materials can be broken down and recycled to make new products including turbine blades – and chewy sweets.

Wind power is one of the dominant forms of renewable energy. However, turbine blades, usually made of fibreglass, can be as long as half a football field and cause problems with disposal, with many discarded in landfills when they reach the end of their use cycle.

To combat the waste, researchers designed a new form of resin. Digesting the resin in an alkaline solution produced potassium lactate, which can be purified and made into sweets and sports drinks.

“We recovered food-grade potassium lactate and used it to make gummy bear candies, which I ate,” said John Dorgan, one of the authors of the paper.

The alkaline digestion also released poly(methyl methacrylate), or PMMA, a common acrylic material used in windows and car taillights.

On eating gummy bears that are derived from a wind turbine, Dorgan says “a carbon atom derived from a plant, like corn or grass, is no different from a carbon atom that came from a fossil fuel. It’s all part of the global carbon cycle, and we’ve shown that we can go from biomass in the field to durable plastic materials and back to foodstuffs.”

He added: “The beauty of our resin system is that at the end of its use cycle, we can dissolve it, and that releases it from whatever matrix it’s in so that it can be used over and over again in an infinite loop. That’s the goal of the circular economy.”

Researchers will present their results on Tuesday at a meeting of the American Chemical Society. They plan to make some blades for field testing.

Chelsie Henshaw

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Hull's Siemens factory produces first batch of wind turbine blades
New £310m plant hailed as positive ‘perfect storm’ for port area with one of Britain’s highest unemployment rates

Adam Vaughan

01, Dec, 2016 @6:27 PM

Article image
England’s tallest wind turbine prepares to rise against the odds
Renewable project on edge of Bristol has overcome planning hurdles and will empower local housing estate

Tom Wall

09, Feb, 2023 @5:30 PM

Article image
Environmental impact of bottled water ‘up to 3,500 times greater than tap water’
Researchers also find impact of bottled water on ecosystems is 1,400 times higher than that of tap water

Joey Grostern

05, Aug, 2021 @9:30 AM

Article image
Carbon fibre: the wonder material with a dirty secret
Researchers are scrambling for ways to get the strong, light material out of landfill and make it ready for recycling and reuse

Mark Harris

22, Mar, 2017 @5:00 AM

Article image
Only a third of UK consumers' plastic packaging is recycled
Two-thirds of such household waste is sent to landfill or incinerated each year, Recoup survey reveals

Kate Lyons

21, Nov, 2016 @5:22 PM

Article image
The innovators: how your coffee can light up your barbecue … and boiler
The Bio-bean start-up recycles waste coffee grounds into biomass fuel pellets and coals that can fire up both boilers and BBQs

Shane Hickey

14, Feb, 2016 @2:41 PM

Article image
Wax worm saliva rapidly breaks down plastic bags, scientists discover
Its enzymes degrade polyethylene within hours at room temperature and could ‘revolutionise’ recycling

Damian Carrington Environment editor

04, Oct, 2022 @3:00 PM

Article image
Labour manifesto promises 1m green jobs to tackle climate crisis
Party says it wants UK workers to be at forefront of global green economy worth £3tn

Kate Proctor

21, Nov, 2019 @12:01 AM

Article image
‘Zombie batteries’ causing hundreds of waste fires, experts warn
Industry experts urge people not to throw out batteries with household rubbish or recycling

Damian Carrington Environment editor

26, Oct, 2020 @6:00 AM

Article image
Bristol community secures funding to build tallest wind turbine in England
Residents of Lawrence Weston, a deprived housing estate, achieve £4m target without government aid

Tom Wall

16, Apr, 2022 @7:00 AM