Researchers at Michigan State University in the United States claim to have developed a new material that could make the blades of wind turbines made of fibreglass reusable. They have said the blades could be recycled into new turbine blades and a wide variety of other products, even edible items like gummy bears, if they are made using a new composite resin.
The other products that could be made from these blades include countertops, car tail lights and diapers, besides gummy bears, said a press release issued by the American Chemical Society (ACS).
The wind turbine blades are made of fibreglass because they need to be super strong to be able to withstand strong winds to spin around high above the ground. But since fibreglass isn’t really a recyclable material, the turbines end up at dumping grounds once they are out of work.
The new material developed by the Michigan university team “can be used over and over again in an infinite loop”, John Dorgan, one of the engineers behind it, was quoted as saying in the press release.
“That’s the goal of the circular economy,” he said.
The researchers are to present their results at the ongoing ACS Fall 2022 meeting, which is to feature nearly 11,000 presentations on a wide range of science topics.
No ‘Yuck Factor’
Resin is a substance used in making plastics, or in fibreglass that is plastic embedded with glass fibres.
“The beauty of our resin system is that at the end of its use cycle, we can dissolve it…,” according to Dorgan, who is to present the study at the meeting.
The material can be shaped into fibreglass by mixing it with glass fibres, and this new fibreglass can be later dissolved with its glass removed, or reshaped into a new product, the team said in the release.
Mixed with other substances, the resin can also be used to make prefabricated “rocks” or other kinds of plastics.
The resin can even be broken down into other chemicals to make more products, including potassium lactate that is used to make food items like sports drinks and candies.
Is there a “yuck factor” involved in eating candy made out of what was once part of a wind turbine? Dorgan dismisses this. “A carbon atom derived from a plant, like corn or grass, is no different from a carbon atom that came from a fossil fuel,” he said.
Dorgan also said he ate the gummy bears produced from recycled fibreglass. “We recovered food-grade potassium lactate and used it to make gummy bear candies, which I ate.”