Ireland, Northern Ireland Climate action and sustainable development, Transport and infrastructure

How BladeBridges are repurposing wind turbines and active travel

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BladeBridge under construction. Source: BladeBridge.ie

When you think of wind energy, you might think of clean energy, a green future, or lengthy consultations and stakeholder engagement.

But you wouldn’t be remiss for not considering the waste problem created by the proliferation of wind energy. However, with a 20-25 year lifespan, the current end-of-life option for wind turbines is either landfill or incineration since recycling is not commercially viable.

And with a landfill ban inbound for 2025 in Ireland and incineration not exactly a green option, BladeBridge.ie fills a crucial gap in the market in terms of wind farms looking for sustainable end-of-life alternatives!

The background

The original project, ReWind began as an innovative multidisciplinary approach including geographers and sociologists from Georgia Tech, University College Cork and Queens University Belfast. It compared sustainable end–of–life reuse and recycling strategies for these composite material wind turbine blades.

Working with structural and energy engineers on sustainable repurposing ideas for blade ideas and scoping the context, a dashboard was created upon the 20-25 year turbine service life to calculate the blade material available.

In doing so, it was calculated that there will be 250 to 450 wind turbines per year by 2030.

Annual blade material at the end of service life. Source: BladeBridge.ie
Annual blade material at the end of service life. Source: BladeBridge.ie

Backed by interviews with wind farms, it was determined there is a real and pressing need to consider a sustainable end-of-life solution for wind turbines.

A solution – BladeBridge

During the research, two re-repurposing ideas came to the forefront:

  1. Transmission towers: massive number installed in the United States.
  2. Pedestrian bridges in Ireland: an uptick in cycleway construction and blades to substitute steel girders.

Exploring the bridge concept also encountered huge growth in greenways, with 3500 km of greenways planned through the proposed National Cycling Network with a bridge required every 3 to 4 km meaning there is the potential requirement of 1000 additional bridges.

And by substituting steel girders and parapets with repurposed blades, it was found this offers 20-30% lower carbon than conventional bridges.

Putting this into a larger context, BladeBridge allows renewable energy to become cleaner and more circular, thereby improving Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 7 & 13 while preventing a negative knock-on effect on SDG 12.

Bridge under construction. Source: BladeBridge.ie
Bridge under construction. Source: BladeBridge.ie

From this research, BladeBridge business idea was conceived as a purpose-driven business capable of quantifiably improving Irish sustainability as compared to current practices and conventional products.

Operationalising the concept, a pilot project was achieved through contacts in Cork County Council who were both “enthusiastic and excellent to deal with.”

Only the second “blade bridge” in the world, the 6m bridge on the Midleton to Youghal greenway, used blades decommissioned from a wind farm in Belfast, meaning the team avoided nearly 800 kilograms of CO2 emissions that would have occurred had they used steel girders.

A collaboration between the MaREI research centre, UCC, and partners in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and the United States, and following extensive reverse engineering by Kieran Ruane at MTU in Spring 2021, the Blade Bridge was installed on the greenway in just 4 hours in January 2022 with the greenway opening in Cork this summer.

Going forward

After the successful completion of the pilot BladeBridge in Cork County Council, BladeBridge is determined to work with wind farms to repurpose their material and to set a sales pipeline for the products they will ultimately make with their blades.

Possible street furniture designs. Source: BladeBridge.ie. 
Possible street furniture designs. Source: BladeBridge.ie.

Wasting no parts, BladeBridge has also partnered with a designer for prototyping outdoor furniture.

Initially inspired by greenway furniture, the designer came back with ideas such as bike parking and benches, likely called BladeRack, and other designs to use up the tip sections that aren’t used by the bridge, such as bus shelters, seating and planters.

So going forward, what BladeBridge’s ask from local authorities is to invite them to bid on contracts for street furniture and talk to them if you have a Greenway or Active Travel scheme at the planning or procurement stage.

Contact BladeBridge here



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