While wind turbines provide 100% renewable energy, the turbine blades are typically constructed of fiber-reinforced plastics that are both expensive and rarely recyclable. According to researchers at Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, steel construction could ensure that turbine materials are recyclable in addition to costing less and being easier to manufacture than the plastic blades.
The researchers expect that the new blade design will be 90% recyclable and will cut the cost of mass production by up to 90%, as the blades can be produced more rapidly and with more accuracy due to the manufacturing process. Fiber-reinforced plastics require a large amount of manual work that must be completed in steps, but sheet metal construction is much easier to streamline as multiple processes can be performed simultaneously. These production efficiencies are expected to cut the cost of wind energy.
Additionally, the process used to give the metal blades their shape, which involves pumping a water-oil mixture into the blade with massive amounts of pressure, helps to eliminate inaccuracies from the production process and creates an optimized, consistent shape. The researchers have already created a prototype blade and will next produce an entire rotor.