To answer those questions, Englund helped GFSI test panels to see if the material science behind its recycling process was sound. The team compared three types of panels side by side: a wood composite oriented strand board, a wooden panelboard and GFSI’s recycled fiberglass panel. In the GE report, Englund said GFSI’s panels showed better water resistance, mechanical properties, resistance to bio-deterioration and fire resistance than both wood panels.
In addition to a materially sound process, GFSI has distinguished itself from competitors by using an innovative software known as Blade Tracker. The software is designed to help capture the end-of-life cycles of the blades themselves by identifying the exact section of a wind turbine blade being recycled, along with its resin type, glass fiber type, shape and more. That’s something Lilly and Englund believe many OEMs don’t know how to do.
“Knowledge is everything,” says Englund. “The more we know, the more we can accommodate into the final recycling process.”
To give OEMs an added incentive to recycle with GFSI’s system, Lilly reached out to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which made GFSI a part of its WasteWise program. The program encourages organizations and businesses to achieve sustainability in their practices and reduce industrial waste.
By using the Blade Tracker software, GFSI is able to provide OEMs with a “certiﬁcate of decommissioning” once their blades have been recycled, and then submit the composite waste information back to the EPA. The EPA, in turn, assigns the OEM or wind farm a “WasteWise Endorser” certiﬁcate, which signifies that the end-of-life blades have been recycled and used to make sustainable products.
Today, Lilly says, GFSI’s process has been refined to the point where it can take a full-size turbine blade, get it off the farm and fully recycled in less than 20 minutes. When the recycling process is finished, a customer like GE can buy back its old wind blades as new products. In 20 years, those recycled products will wear out. But according to Lilly, that presents a unique opportunity.
“If I give you my product today … I’m going to do one thing that most companies don’t do,” Lilly says. “I’m going to ask you ‘Can I have it back?’ Because I can take the same material and reuse it again.”
According to Lilly, companies all around the world are happy to oblige. Three of the four biggest wind manufacturers in China have contacted GFSI about keeping fiberglass out of landfills. “I’m really surprised actually how much of the initiative they are trying to push with regards to the environmental side of it,” Lilly says. “That’s an interesting uptick we never expected from China.”