Repurposing windfarm blades to create walking trail infrastructure
Repurposing Windfarm Blades
NAME OF ORGANISATION
Clare Local Development Company
Windfarms in Ireland are generally situated in the upland areas and this project will take redundant turbine blades and repurpose them into walking trail infrastructure in this environment. Repurposing of this material is higher on the waste hierarchy than recycling and higher than the conventional disposal methods of landfilling or incineration, or co-processing of the material into cement. The goals of the project are to firstly trial the repurposing of turbines into trail infrastructure on walking trails in County Clare, Ireland, then once installed and tested roll out the project via the Rural Recreation Officer network to other trails in Ireland; and finally promote the concept via international trail programmes.
View of MPA Assessor
Provided the pilot phase of the project is successful, it will have a hugely positive environmental as well as social impact through education, awareness raising about circular economy, sustainable resource management and disposal, etc. The way the project taps into local landowners, hiking/walking/guiding groups, people who make their living on the land that the trail it is targeting goes through, really speaks to a strong land ethic – something that mountain and upland cultures around the world share.
Vision, Goals and Aim of Project
Clare Local Development Company (CLDC) is a local, community-led organisation, committed to the support and empowerment of communities and individuals in County Clare, Ireland. It works collaboratively to deliver programs that support equality, diversity, inclusion, and environmental sustainability.
The climate crisis has driven an explosion in the development of renewable energy and particularly windfarms. Wind turbines create electricity from an abundant and inexhaustible source (wind) without the requirement to burn fossil fuels or producing any pollution. All the blades on wind turbines have a finite life and need to be replaced after 20 – 25 years. Wind Power Association “WindEurope” estimates that 52,000 tonnes of blades will be decommissioned annually by 2030.We are now entering the timeframe where a large number of blades are being replaced and the old blades need to be dealt with in the most environmentally friendly way. Currently the majority of blades are sent to landfill. Wind Energy Ireland expect that full farms will begin to decommission starting in 2023. Research through the Re-Wind Network shows that blade waste will increase year on year, with an average estimate of 450 blades decommissioning per year, and peaking at around 9000 tonnes of blade waste per year in 2038.
This is where Clare Local Development Company proposes its project of repurposing windfarm blades to create walking trail infrastructure. With preliminary work already undertaken, the project of repurposing windfarm blades officially starts in July 2023 with a completion date of June 2024.
Windfarms are generally situated in the upland area’s and this project will take redundant turbine blades and repurpose them into walking trail infrastructure in this environment. The first phase is to develop pedestrian bridges, stiles and seating for installation on walking trails. The blades are incredibly robust and strong enough to be reengineered into trail infrastructure capably of carrying pedestrians and other non-mechanised trail users. The project will be instigated on the Cliffs of Moher Coastal Path, this is the busiest walking trail in Ireland with in excess of 600k users annually. Two bridges have already been selected to be replaced on the trail and CLDC has partnered with the local landowner and walking guide to implement the project. The company is further partnering with a spin out company Bladebridge from University College Cork comprised of a professor, PHD student and engineer to realise the project.
Repurposing of this material is higher on the waste hierarchy than recycling (which as mentioned, is not yet commercially available) and higher than the conventional disposal methods of landfilling or incineration, or co-processing of the material into cement. Life cycle assessment studies have shown that repurposing of the material into support members for bridges, thereby replacing an amount of steel, is more environmentally beneficial than processing the blade material into cement.
The vision for the project is to develop a system and process for repurposing windfarm turbines into trail infrastructure to benefit trail users and remove the need for sending turbines to landfill. The following goals are targeted: (1) trial the repurposing of turbines into trail infrastructure on walking trails in County Clare, Ireland; (2) once installed and tested roll out the project via the Rural Recreation Officer network to other trails in Ireland; and finally (3) promote the concept via international trail programs such as the American Trails Network and the World Trails Network.
This is the first project to use existing upland infrastructure repurposed into trail infrastructure for the benefit of trail users. Currently trail infrastructure is sourced from generic suppliers, mostly international companies involving large transport costs and environmental damage. This project keeps all the elements as local as possible:
- source the blade from a local windfarm
- repurpose the blade in a local light engineering firm
- install the new trail infrastructure on a local trail using local contractors
The project will develop a system to facilitate the replication of the project on other trails in Ireland but also internationally. The repurposing process will be generic so different types and sizes of turbines can be used and local light engineering companies in the locality of the trail.
Note: Recipient of funding through the 2022 Circular Economy Innovation Grant Scheme, of the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications|
UIAA Mountain Protection Award Nominees