Innovative use of spent wind turbine blades to cut HS2’s carbon footprint

HS2 will pilot using sections cut from time-expired wind turbine blades to reinforce concrete.

HS2 is to pilot the use of sections of retired wind turbine blades to reinforce concrete, in place of conventional steel reinforcing bar.

Most wind turbine blades are made from glass-fibre-reinforced polymer, and they have a finite life. By 2023, around 15,000 turbine blades will have been decommissioned across the UK and EU. Until now, expired blades have either been ground down to be used as building materials or sent to energy-from-waste incinerators.

Wind turbine blades have a finite life, after which they have to be replaced.

Under HS2’s innovation, believed to be a world first, using suitable sections cut from decommissioned wind turbine blades instead of steel rebar to reinforced concrete will cut the carbon generated by concrete reinforcement by up to 90%.

The initiative project is being taken forward under HS2’s innovation programme by Skanska Costain STRABAG joint venture, and the UK’s world-leading National Composites Centre, part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult.

Wind turbine blades are huge, weighing 35 tonnes each or more.
Robert Cairns, HS2.

HS2 Ltd innovation manager Rob Cairns said: “Reusing old turbine blades reduces waste, cuts demand for new steel and reduces the carbon generated during the production of concrete.

“This scheme is a brilliant example of the innovation happening on the whole HS2 project. If our world-first pilot project goes well, we could see a waste product from the energy industry becoming an essential material for the construction sector in the future.”

Harrison O’Hara, SKS JV

Skanska Costain STRABAG Joint Venture’s innovation manger Harrison O’Hara said: “Wind turbine blades are extremely difficult to recycle. Ideas of what to do with them after they’re taken down range from turning them into playground slides to processing them into pellets for glues and paints.

“What’s potentially so significant about this innovation is that, unlike some other turbine blade recycling initiatives, which involve reprocessing, our innovation reinforces concrete with sections simply cut from the turbines – massively reducing the carbon produced in repurposing the blades.”

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