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 blades by combining glass fibers with a plant-derived and a synthetic polymer. Once the blades have reached the end of their useful life, the materials can be broken down and recycled to make new products, such as turbine blades and chewy candy.
Wind power is one of the dominant forms of renewable energy. However, turbine blades, usually made of fiberglass, can be as long as half a football field and cause problems with disposal, and many are disposed of in landfills when they reach the end of their use cycle. .
To combat waste, the researchers designed a new form of resin. Digestion of the resin in an alkaline solution produced potassium lactate, which can be purified and made into candy and sports drinks.
“We recovered food-grade potassium lactate and used it to make gummy bear candy, which I ate,” said John Dorgan, one of the paper’s authors.
Alkaline digestion also released poly(methyl methacrylate) or PMMA, a common acrylic material used in car windows and taillights.
Eating gummy bears that are derived from a wind turbine, Dorgan says that “a carbon atom derived from a plant, like corn or grass, is no different than a carbon atom that comes from a fossil fuel. It’s all part of the global carbon cycle, and we’ve shown we can go from biomass in the field to durable plastic materials and back into food.”
He added, “The beauty of our resin system is that at the end of its use cycle, we can dissolve it and that frees it from whatever matrix it’s in so it can be used over and over again in an infinite cycle. That is the goal of the circular economy.”
The researchers will present their results Tuesday at a meeting of the American Chemical Society. They plan to make some blades for field testing.