Decommissioned Wind Turbine Blades Become Footbridges
Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast are transforming decommissioned wind turbine blades into footbridges that can hold the weight of a 30-tonne digger.
Over the last 30 years, wind farm development has been scaled up globally and is now posing a major environmental challenge. The turbine blades, which are nonbiodegradable, have a life span of just 20 to 25 years. After this, they are either landfilled or incinerated.
Currently, there are about 11,000 wind turbines in the U.K. Estimates suggest that 450 blades will be decommissioned in Ireland by 2030. Researchers also predict that based on a 20-year life span, there will be about 8.6 million tonnes of blades decommissioned worldwide by 2042.
In a bid to tackle the challenge, the transatlantic research network “Re-Wind” was set up to find ways to repurpose the blades. Working together, geography experts, design architects and engineers have discovered that they can create a bridge by using just two turbine blades.
The network partners are Queen’s University Belfast, University College Cork, Georgia Institute of Technology, City University New York and Munster Technological University, Cork.
Already, the team has successfully built two footbridges in Ireland: a 7-m-span bridge in Draperstown, Northern Ireland, and a 5-m-span bridge in Cork in the Republic of Ireland. They are known as “BladeBridges” and passed rigorous testing in May. A third bridge is also underway in Atlanta, Georgia.
Three of the researchers from University College Cork and Munster Technological University have created a spin-out from the Re-Wind research, called BladeBridge. They’ve been looking at a variety of uses for the blades: as bus shelters, barriers, street furniture and telecommunications towers, for example.
The bridge in Cork was completed in January 2022 and funded under the Irish Department of Transport’s Project Ireland 2040 initiative. The second bridge was funded by Science Foundation Ireland, the Northern Ireland Department of the Economy and the U.S. National Science Foundation, via the U.S.-Ireland R&D Partnership.