The Jules Verne Institute of Technological Research (IRT) launched the ZEBRA (Zero wastE Blade ReseArch) project in September 2020, for a duration of 42 months and a budget of 18.5 million euros. The project coordinates a consortium of industrial companies to demonstrate on a large scale the technical, economic and environmental relevance of thermoplastic wind turbine blades, with an eco-design that facilitates the recycling of composite materials.
The fundamental issue for the wind energy sector is to face the challenge of the end of life of these installations. With a lifespan of 20 to 30 years, the blades were previously made of glass fibres, thermosetting resins or carbon. With the recyclability rate of wind turbines at 85% to 90%, the industry is now looking to design and manufacture the first 100% recyclable wind turbine blade. Competing with another programme, the Circular Economy for Thermosets Epoxy Composite (Cetec) project launched by wind giant Vestas on a different technology, the ZEBRA project has therefore just announced the release of the first full-scale prototype of the world’s largest 100% recyclable wind turbine blade. “This is an important step in the industry’s transition to a circular economy,” said IRT Jules Verne.
The ZEBRA project consortium includes French chemical manufacturer Arkema, American Owens Corning, which specialises in new materials, Spanish blade manufacturer LM Wind Power, energy company and wind farm operator Engie, water and waste specialist Suez and two technical centres (CANOE and IRT Jules Vernes).
To accelerate the wind industry’s transition to a circular economy for wind turbine blades, with the integration of highly recyclable composites. The strategic consortium set up for the project covers the entire value chain: from materials development, to blade manufacturing, to operation and dismantling of the wind turbines, and finally to recycling once the blade material is taken out of service.
The ZEBRA project prototype, measuring 62 metres in length, was made from Arkema’s Elium® resin, a thermoplastic resin known for its recyclable properties, which was combined with new high-performance glass fabrics from the american company Owens Corning. LM Wind Power designed and built the thermoplastic blade in Ponferrada, Spain.
The resulting composite material offers similar performance to thermoset resins but with a unique key advantage: recyclability.
An advanced method of recycling composite materials, developed by Arkema and CANOE partners, is being tested on all composite parts, including the waste generated during production. Owens Corning is also responsible for finding solutions for recycling fibreglass by remelting or reusing it in various applications.
The innovation in this project also lies in the automation of the manufacturing process, in order to reduce energy consumption and production waste.
LM Wind Power will now begin large-scale structural life testing at its test and validation centre in Denmark, to verify the performance of the composite material used in the blade manufacture and its feasibility for future sustainable blade production. End-of-life recycling methods will also be validated once these tests are completed. By the end of the project in 2023, the consortium will have met the challenge of bringing the wind energy industry into the circular economy loop in a sustainable way, based on the principles of sustainable design.