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Representation in Ireland

EU-funded Cork project gives new life to old wind turbine blades

A Cork-based EU funded research project is looking into the growing problem posed by the disposal of obsolete wind turbine blades.

In 2023, wind energy supplied a record 35% of Ireland’s electricity and this figure is set to rise further in the coming years with the construction of new onshore and offshore wind farms that will not only help Ireland reach its 2030 renewable energy targets but also reduce its carbon emissions by over 50%.

However, with the construction of new wind farms comes a new problem: the disposal of wind turbine blades (WTBs), which have an average life expectancy of around 20 years. In Ireland, around 11,000 tons of these are due to be decommissioned by 2025 and the glass fibre materials used in their construction are not biodegradable.

The EU-funded EirBLADE (National REposItory of Decommissioned Wind Turbine BLADEs) project is hoping to provide a solution to this problem by creating a national digital database of decommissioned WTBs in Ireland and their mechanical fitness to be reused in second life structures such as street furniture.

Dr. Vesna Jaksic of Munster Technological University in Cork and EirBLADE team lead said:

“This will be like a second-hand shop in which you are getting technical information on the product, in this case, the blades, which isn’t available anywhere else right now.”

Dr. Paul Leahy of University College Cork co-lead of EirBLADE said:

“They have to be decommissioned safely and responsibly and we have to recycle, recover, and repurpose the materials so that’s where EirBLADE comes in. We are addressing one of the big challenges for the sustainability of the industry, which is finding beneficial solutions for repurposing the blades”.

Some of the anticipated benefits of this project include a reduction in wind turbine blade waste, more sustainable practices in the wind energy industry, the creation of new products, and potentially new jobs through “green procurement” of repurposed blades.

While this project is being conducted in Cork, the results are expected to have national and potentially international impact.

The project began in June 2023 and has received €249,929 in EU funding through Science Foundation Ireland (SFI). It will come to a close in November 2024. Project partners include the Munster Technological University (MTU), University College Cork (UCC) and Cork County Council.