According to a recent story from GE Reports, a daily news wing of GE, Bothell, Wash.-based company Global Fiberglass Solutions Inc. (GFSI) has invented a way to transform old wind turbine blades into products like manhole covers, building panels and pallets.
GE says that when the manhole covers, pallets and panels wear out in another 20 years, GFSI has plans to reuse the material for new products. GFSI is also a member of the American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA) – a trade association representing the North American composites industry that is also working toward the development of its own fiberglass recycling technology. IACMI-The Composites Institute, a government-funded, public-private partnership, is currently reviewing the ACMA Recycling Committee’s ThermolyzerTM technology, which recycles all liquids, tars and oils from composite materials and converts them into clean synthetic gases.
“Third-generation recycling could represent a new reality for industrial companies like GE, where businesses own the same resources — e.g., fiberglass materials — and repurpose them again and again,” GE Reports wrote.
GFSI’s recycling process begins at a wind farm, where technicians from GFSI cut dismantle blades into 37-meter chunks. To minimize hazardous dust, GFSI uses wet wire blades that are thin and strong enough to slice each wind blade open. The company then sprays a light mist of water so that debris rains into a giant dustpan lying beneath the blade.
Next, GFSI loads the dismantled blades onto flatbed trucks and hauls them to nearby yards where the blades are shredded into raw fiberglass material known as feedback. A single blade yields about 15-20 bags of feedback weighing between 700 and 1,000 pounds each. GFSI will reuse 100 percent of each blade.
To make this possible, GSFI uses a special formula that turns the crushed-up fiberglass into products, which are made of fiberglass mixed with rock and filler. As Ronald Albrecht, chief operating officer of GFSI, told GE Reports: “We had to figure out, ‘What is the percentage of wind turbine blade that goes into every individual product?”
To figure that out, GFSI turned to Dr. Karl Englund, a recycling expert at Washington State University’s Composite Materials and Engineering Center. ”So far, the products have performed extremely well,” Englund says. “The GFSI composite panels exceed wood-based composites in water resistance, mechanical properties, resistance to bio-deterioration and fire resistance.”
GE can then buy back its old wind blades as new products. A single blade makes about 1,000 pallets that can be used for building walkways or vehicle flooring. GFSI has recycled a total 564 blades for GE in less than a year. Based on current plans, GFSI estimates that GE could reuse 50 million pounds of waste in the next couple of years.