Making Clean Energy Cleaner
Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Lowell take the concept of “cradle to grave” environmental impacts seriously. Under a $1.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the school’s Wind Energy Research Group, along with researchers at Wichita State University, is designing biodegradable wind turbine blades.
Today’s turbine blades, which can measure up to 200 feet long and weigh as much as 18 tons each, are made from petroleum-based polymers. When they are retired, they are commonly incinerated, landfilled, or cut up and used as filler in construction. “One of the things we’re looking at is to replace petroleum-based resins with sustainable resins. We’re going to find a new material that has the same properties as the current ones,” says Professor Chrisopher Niezrecki of UMass. Niezrecki estimates that the U.S. will be purging over 34,000 blades annually by 2030 as the industry booms.
If researchers can develop a strong and cost-efficient “bio-resin” based on, say, vegetable oil, its application could go beyond turbine blades to any product made from fiberglass, such as boats, swimming pools, and bath tubs.
Image by iStock/dan_prat.
Reed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”