The UIAA is delighted to announce that Repurposing Windfarm Blades by Clare Local Development Company, Ireland, has been named as the 2023 UIAA Mountain Protection Award (MPA) Best New Initiative (BNI).
The BNI is one of three prizes offered as part of the annual award. The Runner-Up will be announced on Friday 13 October and the Overall Winner during the UIAA General Assembly on Saturday 21 October. The UIAA Mountain Protection Award is partnered by the Bally Peak Outlook Foundation.
A total of 12 international projects operational on four continents were showcased as part of 2023 MPA. This year’s nominated projects focus on a number of initiatives including how mountain guides are adapting to shorter and more unpredictable seasons, the introduction of renewable energy to Everest Base Camp and how elite sport climbers are adapting their competition planning and logistics to help offset the impact of climate change.
ABOUT THE 2023 BEST NEW INITIATIVE
Windfarms in Ireland are generally situated in the upland areas and the Clare Local Development Company project, supported by BladeBridge and endorsed by Mountaineering Ireland, 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 and 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.
Discover more about the project here.
“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. 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.”
– UIAA Assessment Team
Following the announcement of the project’s nomination as Best New Initiative for 2023, the UIAA spoke to Clare Local Development Company’s Rural Recreation Officer Eoin Hogan.
UIAA: How do you feel about winning Best New Initiative as part of the 2023 UIAA Mountain Protection Award?
Clare Local Development Company: We are honoured to receive this award and the international recognition that comes with it. Our goal is to reduce waste by repurposing decommissioned wind turbine blades while providing attractive and useful new infrastructure. These new bridges will allow more walkers to enjoy the beautiful Cliffs of Moher trail in Co. Clare while respecting the local environment and keeping used blade materials out of landfills.
What do you hope recognition from the UIAA Mountain Protection Award brings to the project?
Thousands of wind turbine blades will reach the end of their service lives in the next decade. We hope that the award will highlight this project as an example of how to change perceptions of “waste” and to imagine new opportunities to improve the environment by repurposing used materials.
In terms of repurposing materials, are you continually finding new ways to innovate and reuse materials? Is there a certain amount of ‘learning on the job’?
BladeBridge is less than one year old. We learned a lot from our previous research project “Re-Wind” but moving from research to creating products has been a huge learning experience for us. We’ve had to address many practical challenges working with complex blade shapes and composite materials and learning how to match the right blade to the right application to ensure that no material goes to waste.
What will define your pilot project as being a success?
For us, this project will be a success if people use the bridges, appreciate the design and the materials, talk about them, and see the benefit of repurposing materials to create new infrastructure and products.
Following its deployment in County Clare, which areas of Ireland have you identified to concentrate on next?
We are interested in the expansion of the long-distance greenway network all over Ireland. Using sustainably-sourced repurposed blade materials to support the development of a sustainable transport network is a win-win in terms of environmental benefits. There are opportunities on greenways and walking trails in every county of Ireland.
How do you aim to network with trail organisations worldwide? And how will you specifically share your expertise?
We are hoping that this project and award will demonstrate the potential for repurposed infrastructure to other trail organisations in Ireland and beyond. Our designs are built on “public good” research and partnerships with research institutions. One way we exchange knowledge and know-how is through the international Re-Wind network and we would love to work on proposals for new trail facilities incorporating blades in other parts of the world.
How can people support your project?
People can support the project and the wider mission of repurposing by always thinking of how resources can be kept in use for as long as possible. When a new walkway, piece of outdoor furniture or bridge is proposed for your local trail, we would ask that repurposed materials should be considered wherever possible.
Based on your own experiences, what advice would you give to people trying to create similar projects to your own in other countries, especially those dealing with the issue of redundant infrastructure in the mountains?
It is important to find allies in local communities and organisations who share the vision of minimising resource use and environmental impact who can help make the case to planners, regulators and contractors. We were fortunate to work with the Clare Local Development Company on this project. It may often appear more straightforward to work with new materials rather than repurposing or recycling elements of existing redundant infrastructure. However, there are often hidden costs and impacts associated with new materials such as transportation and logistics, and there is usually a greater social benefit to sourcing and repurposing local materials.