Ever wonder what happens to old wind turbines when they can no longer function? Well, the Re-Wind Research Project is investigating different ways to dispose of them. For now, they end up in landfills, where they keep piling up. However, Re-Wind is exploring its potential use in engineering and architectural structures. So far, they propose their reuse as pedestrian bridges and protective bike shelters. In fact, these two ideas are already in effect in Aalborg, Denmark.
The Future of Recycling Wind Turbines, Airplanes, and Cars
Meanwhile, this idea is also sprouting roots in Ireland. The Re-Wind team is working there with the Cork Institute of Technology. Together, they are in the process of recycling three old wind turbines from Belfast Farm that went out of commission at the end of last year. The team is testing different uses for the turbines, including reusing them in skate parks, sound barriers, or stadium bleachers. Additionally, the team is discussing how to reuse them in electric towers. 
The Re-Wind team became featured in a report titled “Composite Material Recycling Technology – State-of-the-Art and Sustainable Development for the 2020s,” authored by Andrey E. Krauklis, Christian W. Karl, Abedin I. Gagani, and Jens K. Jørgensen. In it, they detailed the timeline of the composite industry and its development leading up until today. They also analyzed the advances in composite recycling technology in relation to the current market, energy demand, and technology already available. Finally, they recommended further development in composite recycling that is economically and environmentally sustainable. 
The technology review discusses various reasons for the importance of composite recycling. For instance, Germany has, in fact, banned composite landfilling in 2009, making recycling a necessity. But how remains a work in process. Additionally, the Covid-pandemic caused more aircrafts’ decommissioning. Plus, many wind turbines became decommissioned in 2019 and 2020. And finally, mass car production has led to increases in composites in that category. Recycling these products properly can reduce the environmental impact of the industries while still meeting demand.
Turning Wind Turbines into Parks and Bike Shelters
Repurposing wind turbines as bike shelters became one of the few uses they put forward, and for good reason.
“According to WindEurope, there will be around 14,000 blades planned for decommissioning by 2023. Recycling these old blades is a top priority for the wind industry,” wrote the authors. “This challenge requires both logistical and technological solutions for disassembling, collection, transportation, waste management and reintegration of the composite materials and/or structures into the value chain.”
Later on in the review, the authors discuss other purposes for wind turbines. “Large sections of wind turbine blades can be reused for architectural or other structural purposes. Examples of applications have been proposed by the SuperUse studio in the Netherlands. In the city of Rotterdam, a 1,200 square meter children’s playground was built with various elements, such as a slide tower, tunnels, ramps, and slides. For this, 5 decommissioned rotor blades were used.
“Other examples are the city of Terneuzen, where rotor blades were also used for a playground and converted into seats in a public place. Or Almere (also in the Netherlands) with two bus stops. Further examples for repurposing are a pedestrian bridge using A29 wind blades as main girders (Re-Wind research project) or bike sheds.”
The Future of Recycling
While the term recycling may remind people of plastic water bottles and metal cans, the concept goes a lot further. After all, the companies behind those products have their own recycling to do when it comes to manufacturing machines and materials when they go out of use. Fortunately, great minds are working on the best way to repurpose these materials so they don’t end up in landfills or incinerated — especially not when they could go to good use somewhere else.
As the authors of the technology report concluded: “The future development of the composite industry is ‘green’ and optimistic yet highly dependent on the rapidly developing recycling technology and implementation of Circular Economy (CE) and sustainable thinking.”
- “Denmark is repurposing discarded wind turbine blades as bike shelters.” Design Boom. Myrto Katsikopoulou. September 27, 2021
- “Composite Material Recycling Technology – State-of-the-Art and Sustainable Development for the 2020s.” Andrey E. Krauklis, Christian Wolfgang Karl, Abedin Gagani, and Jens K. Jørgensen. Research Gate. December 2020