Wind turbines are, by design, green solutions for the production of power. Wind turbines produce zero carbon emissions; however, the blades themselves pose an environmental challenge as the blades depreciate. To address this concern, the Georgia Institute of Technology in partnership with Logisticus Group was awarded the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) Partnerships for Innovation (PFI) grant.
The Partnerships for Innovation Program within the Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships (IIP) provides researchers from science and engineering disciplines funded by the NSF with the opportunity take their research and technology from the discovery phase to the marketplace for the benefit of society.
Russell Gentry, professor in the Georgia Tech School of Architecture, serves as the project’s principal investigator. The three-year grant continues Gentry’s research on the reuse of retired wind blades and builds on the proprietary technology developed as part of the Re-Wind Tripartite Research program funded by the U.S. NSF, Science Foundation of Ireland, and the Department for the Economy of Northern Ireland.
“In our foundational NSF grants, our team demonstrated the potential for wind-blade re-use and the positive environmental benefits that will come from the re-use of these amazing composite materials in civil infrastructure,” Gentry said. “This potential is embodied in the two patents we are pursuing and in the follow-on Partnership for Industry grant from NSF. The team is now advancing our hardware and software technology and has partnered with companies in the wind energy and electrical transmission industries to pilot these technologies.”
Logisticus Group joins the project as the key provider of transportation for the retired wind-turbine blades. As one of the largest wind-blade transporters, Logisticus Group brings supply expertise for the complex logistics of transporting decommissioned wind-turbine blades, which are approximately 50 meters in length.
“We are thrilled to partner with Georgia Tech on this project,” said Will Stephan, founder of Logisticus Group. “Their team has always had a passion to conduct research and development on proprietary technology when it comes to reusing wind blades. We feel, as a company, that we need to be a part of the solution to find ways to recycle and repurpose these blades.”
Wind-turbine blades are made from high quality fiber-reinforced polymer composite materials, which are not biodegradable or recyclable. Currently, turbine blades are landfilled or incinerated at their end-of-life stage. Georgia Tech and Logisticus will conduct research and development to commercialize mass-market architectural, engineering, and construction products from repurposed FRP composite of decommissioned wind turbine blades.
The team, comprised of Georgia Tech faculty, laboratory staff, and graduate and undergraduate students in architecture and engineering, will develop commercial products using Generative Design software, architecture studios and workshops, structural and Finite element analysis, life-cycle analysis, Lidar technology, and full-scale testing of prototypes in Georgia Tech’s 20,000 sq. ft Digital Fabrication Laboratory.
“The success of our project comes from the diverse talents and viewpoints represented on the team,” Gentry said. “It’s rare to have architects, engineers, and social, geospatial, and environmental scientists working on the same fundamental problem. As we move to commercialize, we are building an entrepreneurial team and linking with industry. We look forward to seeing our re-use applications implemented in the next three years.”
Prior to receiving the NSF PFI grant, researchers at Georgia Tech developed proprietary algorithms for a tool called the “Blade Machine” and created unique testing methodologies to rapidly characterize any wind-turbine blade currently in production for architectural and structural analysis and design purposes.
In October 2020, the team participated in the NSF’s I-Corp Innovation Program.
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