Vanderbilt University Engineers Making Wind Turbines More Sustainable

Posted at 8:20 AM, May 24, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-24 09:20:28-04

Wind turbines make us think of earth-friendly energy, but when these huge blades are retired, very little can be recycled. Now, Vanderbilt University engineers are working to make them more sustainable.  

"Wind turbines are huge. The blades themselves measure about 250 feet long and they're 12 tons," said Doug Adams, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Vanderbilt University. "We need all forms of energy because in the United States we're not decreasing our amount of energy use. It's always increasing year over year." 

He says Vanderbilt University's Lasir lab (laboratory for systems integrity and reliability) could be key in making these blades more earth-friendly.  

"We're working on advanced technologies to manufacture them faster and less expensively," he said.  

Traditionally, it takes about two-and-a-half days to make one of the blades. Now, they're using a new resin called Elium that cures at room temperature. Unlike its predecessor, this resin doesn't prevent the fiberglass from being recycled. 

"Recycling is a big deal in the manufacturing of composites but also in wind energy. Think about how big these blades are. Twelve tons. You'd like to be able to capture some of that if and when you retire the blade," he said.  

The American Wind Energy Association estimates there are more than 52,000 wind turbines operating in the U.S. Right now, wind energy represents about 100,000. It's projected to increase to 1/4 million jobs in the next decade.