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The Non-Renewable Secret at the Heart of the Wind Energy Industry

By James Burgess | Sun, 18 November 2012 00:00 | 1

Despite the incredibly low prices of solar photovoltaic panels, wind energy remains the fastest growing renewable sector. However it has one decidedly un-renewable secret at its core; it is built from non-recyclable materials, which means that every time a part is replaced, the discarded piece must be burnt, or chucked in a landfill.

As the industry grows and more turbines are built, more and more giant turbine blades are thrown into landfills. To try and combat this waste the National Science Foundation (NSF) has granted the University of Massachusetts Lowell $19.million to find a solution to this problem by developing biodegradable wind turbine blades.

Professor Christopher Niezrecki of the university’s Wind Energy Research Group will lead the research team, and commented that “one of the things we’re looking at is to replace petroleum-based resins with sustainable resins. We’re going to find a new material that has the same properties as the current ones.”

Related Article: Bladeless Turbine: The Future of Wind Energy?

“The objective is to have them be either the same cost or less. If they’re more expensive, the question is do they add so much value that people will use them instead? We have to make sure whatever we develop is cost effective. There are lots of challenges. It’s not an easy problem to solve.”

The US Department of Energy’s Wind Program has set itself the goal of generating 20 percent of the US’s electricity from wind power by 2030. An amount that Niezrecki believes will see over 34,000 blades replaced each year.

Until a method for recycling, or at least naturally degrading these blades has been found, the industry really doesn’t appear that ‘clean’.

By. James Burgess of Oilprice.com

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  • Matt on November 19 2012 said:
    "Clean" is relative, surely. Nobody expects energy to come from the pure good will of man. But fossil and nuclear plants leave behind old structures AND an enormously greater burden of waste products from their fuel production and consumption. Even if you just chuck the old turbine tower and blades in the nearest landfill at end of life that's much less hazardous waste than a coal or nuclear plant would produce in order to generate a corresponding number of megawatt hours.

    To put it another way, both bicycles and pickup trucks produce some pollution when they travel a mile. But it would be really disingenuous to suggest that because a bicycle is not completely clean it's really the same as the truck.

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