The shift to renewable energy has seen a significant rise since the turn of the century. Prompted predominately by the growing concern for climate change and the consumer push for sustainable development, companies, governments, and researchers are working endlessly to advance this sector technologically.
Among the many different facets of renewable energy, including solar, hydro, biomass, etc., the growth of wind energy has significantly surged, with the United States being home to one of the fastest-growing wind energy markets in the world.
At the end of August of 2021, the US Department of Energy (DOE) released three reports showing "record growth in land-based wind energy, significant expansion of the pipeline for offshore wind projects, and continued decline in the cost of wind energy generation."
Today, wind energy comprises 26% of the US's renewable energy sector, second only to biomass at 39%.
The Past, Present, and Future of Wind Energy
Since its popularity has soared, wind energy has seen an onslaught of technological developments to streamline its performance. This comes as no surprise when one considers that harvesting the wind has been done for thousands of years, leaving a generous amount of time for improvement. That, coupled with the growing desire for sustainable development and to shift away from fossil fuels, means the wind energy sector is poised to pave the way for a more sustainable future.
Today, there are many methods to convert wind to usable energy. From land turbines, offshore turbines, vertical-axis turbines, and even those attached to national monuments, the adaptability and relative ease of implementation make it a high choice among those looking to reduce their footprint.
Wind energy works by utilizing turbine blades to collect kinetic energy. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the "wind flows over the blades creating lift, which causes the blades to turn. The blades are connected to a drive shaft that turns an electric generator, which produces electricity."
Though many studies consider this energy to be a green option compared to fossil fuels, there are still some drawbacks with this source; one of the largest is the lack of recyclability of turbine blades at their end-of-life stage. This poses some barriers as researchers and engineers around the globe work to mitigate the issue.
Despite this difficulty, a company named Siemens Gamesa has seemingly found a way to produce fully recyclable turbine blades.
A Noteworthy Advancement
Siemens Gamesa began in 1976 under the name Grupo Auxiliar Metalúrgico and specialized in industrial project management and emerging businesses. The company officially joined the wind energy sector in 1994. Nearly a year later, it was installing its first wind farm in El Perdón, Spain. In 2017 the company merged with Siemens Wind Power to become Siemens Gamesa, providing an extra layer of experience and resources to help revolutionize the industry.
Today, Siemens Gamesa is working to incorporate technological advancements to further improve the wind energy industry and spearhead the future of renewable products.
One such example is its aforementioned accomplishment of manufacturing turbine blades that are 100% recyclable, named RecyclableBlade.
The majority of current turbine blades are produced using a series of reinforced materials and resin. The resin coating seals the outer layer of the blade to allow for a stiffer and more robust end product. Though durable and lightweight, the type of resin used makes it difficult for turbine blades to be fully recycled because they cannot be separated from the reinforced materials.
Siemens Gamesa has taken this knowledge and added a twist, making recycling the turbines easier than ever. Its process is relatively similar; however, it incorporates a different type of resin with a distinct chemical structure. Upon decommissioning, Siemens Gamesa will heat an acidic solution and immerse the blade into it, allowing for the resin to dissolve completely. This will leave behind only the blade materials that can be recycled into everyday consumer goods, such as televisions or suitcases.
The company states it has already begun producing blades that are ready for installation. Furthermore, the blades will have a 30-year lifespan, meaning that if the “blades are used on all new wind turbine schemes by 2050, 10 million tons of composite materials could be saved from landfill."
Although this is certainly welcoming news, there is still the need to find a way to recycle the current blades in use. That said, there are undoubtedly a vast number of researchers working on that issue.
For now, Siemens Gamesa's advancement in the wind energy sector can significantly aid in the continued adoption of wind energy by the mainstream consumer, presenting the possibility of a future full of sustainable development and technological advancements.