Thanks to a grant of $1.1 million from the Department of Energy’s Small Business Technology Transfer program and Wind Energy Technologies Office, the University of Tennessee (UT) partnered Carbon Rivers LLC to develop and commercialize a new glass fiber recovery technology for retired wind turbine blades. The UT and Carbon Rivers team will work with GE Renewable Energy, MidAmerican Energy Company, and PacifiCorp utilities to develop a pilot-scale glass fiber composite recycling system leading to the development of a game-changing commercial wind blade waste processing plant.

Implementing Carbon Rivers’ Glass to Glass® Reclamation Technology, the innovative process will move the wind industry closer to a circular manufacturing model by recovering the glass fiber from reinforced polymer composites. Materials received are cut and shredded to produce feedstock, then pyrolyzed to fully remove polymer and other fillers from the glass fibers. The reclaimed glass fiber is converted into the desired polymer composites. The reclamation process limits the mechanical degradation of the glass fiber, allowing the recycled fiber to be reused in new composite applications.

Lead researcher, Ryan Ginder, research assistant professor at UT’s Tickle College of Engineering Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering, explained, “Rather than simply downcycling the blades into worthless aggregates, we are able to not only convert the blades’ organic components into useful petrochemicals for energy production but also able to extract the glass fiber reinforcement and use it to make higher-value recycled composites.”

“Having the opportunity to collaborate with the bright minds at UT, like Dr. Ginder, and catalyze new solutions for our country’s plastics waste problem, is a (UT) Volunteer’s dream come true,” said UT grad and CEO of Carbon Rivers, Bowie Benson.