Windesheim gets accolade for its method of reusing wind turbine components

Windesheim University’s Polymer Engineering research group, led by Associate Professor Albert ten Busschen and Professor Margie Topp, was awarded a 2022 JEC Composites Innovation Award at the Journées Européennes des Composites, the world’s largest composites exhibition, in Paris.

Windesheim previously received the Delta Award, the highest honor for practice-based research in the Netherlands, as well as the RAAK Award for the best SIA practice-based research project.

Important composites players from industry and academia gathered in Paris for the award ceremony, which served as a warm-up for the Journées Européennes des Composites (JEC) composites exhibition. The JEC has used their awards to reward successful initiatives that contribute to more innovation in the industry and thus help to shape the future in a more sustainable way since the first award ceremony more than 20 years ago.

Structural reuse

The reuse of thermoset composites is the research project for which the Polymer Engineering research group received the JEC Innovation Award in the Building & Civil Engineering category. These composites are referred to as “difficult” polymers. On the one hand, the light but extremely strong material – a virtually unbreakable composite of fibres and resins that is also weatherproof – is well suited to a wide range of industrial applications. There is, however, a disadvantage. Because composite recycling is a major issue for which a solution has been sought for more than 30 years.

Or, as Albert ten Busschen explains: “Researchers have been trying for decades to recover the original raw materials (such as resin and glass fibres) from this extremely strong material, from which for example wind turbine rotor blades are made, so that they can be reused.”

Windesheim method

When Ten Busschen started working for the research group, he was determined to find a solution to this problem: “Then you use wind turbines to produce clean energy, but now that the first generation has reached the end of its life, you can’t do anything with those rotor blades,” he explains. “How sustainable is that?”

The issue was that end-of-life composites could not be separated from their original components. The synthetic resin binds the fibers together. As a result, the research team devised a new method: shredding old composite into reinforcing elements. The composite is then shredder-milled into long flakes or strips, retaining all of its beneficial properties. And this can be used to reinforce a variety of new, durable products. Using this novel method, the research team was able to create bank revetments out of windmill blades and railway track sleepers out of old NS interiors.

The National Taskforce for Applied Research SIA co-funded the research project Structural Reuse of Thermoset Composites.

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