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Can Renewable Energy Be Used for Playgrounds?

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Jane Marsh's picture
Editor Environment.co

Jane Marsh is the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co. She covers topics related to climate policy, sustainability, renewable energy and more.

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  • Mar 16, 2022
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Global organizations like the United Nations are setting conservation goals that impact various industries. Net-zero emission goals are influencing renewable energy projects, especially offshore wind farm development. The power sources increase the affordability and sustainability of electricity.

As global wind power supplies grow, society’s reliance on fossil fuels may decrease. Each wind turbine has an expiration date and requires a recycling plan. Some designers are repurposing old turbines into playground parts.

How do Turbines Reach the End of Their Lives?

Before recycling professionals establish turbines’ end-of-life plans, they must assess their life expectancies and causes of damage. Wind turbines last between 20 and 25 years on average. Even with upgrades and maintenance, turbines become inefficient after a couple of decades of full-force wind.

The most common cause of turbine damage is bearings and gearbox deficiencies. Some other issues derive from lightning, blade designs, hydraulic failures and nacelle fires. After wind turbines become inefficient, energy professionals transport pieces to waste management facilities.

Ecological engineers are developing recycling systems for turbines. Currently, zero facilities recycle entire turbines. When energy components reach their expiration dates, they contribute to surface-level pollution.

Can we Recycle Turbines?

Environmental engineers developed wind turbines to minimize adverse ecological effects. The technology produces electricity without polluting the atmosphere with greenhouse gas emissions. One sustainability downfall of turbines is their low recyclability rates.

Manufacturers make turbine blades from lissome fiberglass, which is non-recyclable. After they reach their expiration dates, professionals cut them into transportable pieces. They transport the components to designated landfills where waste management professionals bury the blades.

One landfill in Casper, Wyoming holds over 870 old turbine blades. The materials will remain under Earth’s surface indefinitely because they are unable to decompose. As more countries adopt net-zero emission goals, the number of expired turbine blades will increase.

Environmentalists are creating unique recycling methods to minimize surface-level pollution. One designer in the Netherlands converted expired turbine components into playground parts. Other designers are following the sustainability method by converting renewables into other functional elements.

From Blades to Playscapes

One researcher at the Institut für Umwelt und Biotechnik discovered it takes 75 tons of turbine blade material to create 7.5 megawatts of electricity. A playground designer evaluated the material pollution problem and applied down cycling recovery methods. The designer collected expired elements and cut them into unique shapes for play.

They also added stairs and slides to increase children’s engagement. Other designers are turning old turbine blades into towers and tunnels for play. Individuals can place wood fiber flooring beneath the turbine components to enhance playground safety.

The loose-fill material increases a playground’s sustainability by eliminating chemicals and binders. Wood fibers also minimize impact-related injuries, so designers may place them at the bottom of a slide. Other designers assess the ecological benefits of downcycling turbines and developed additional features.

Other Outdoor Uses for Turbines

A Danish engineer converted old turbine parts into bike storage sheds. Denmark is combating climate change by creating a net-zero transportation sector. More residents have bikes than personal vehicles in the country.

The engineer deconstructed a wind turbine blade into a bike rack covering to protect bikes from weather-related damage. Other designers plan on using similar designs to convert blades into bridge coverings. The design helps Denmark reach its sustainability goals by promoting bike transportation and minimizing landfill waste.

Some engineers are repurposing old turbine blades as camping pods. They can create air streams from the components to shelter campers from the elements. Other designers are cutting the blades in half and using their internal designs for skate parks.

Engineers are laying concrete between each blade to create half pipes. The unique designs also create awareness around turbines’ low recyclability rates. After assessing the recycling measures designers take to minimize waste, individuals feel more compelled to vote for change.

When Will Turbines Become Recyclable?

Environmental engineers are exploring different material uses in turbine manufacturing. They experiment with alternative metals and components that achieve similar efficiency rates without generating landfill waste. Until individuals find an effective material to replace conventional blades, designers may continue downcycling components as a form of recycling.

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Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Mar 18, 2022

I love this idea - when I see stuff like this "One landfill in Casper, Wyoming holds over 870 old turbine blades: - I question how "green" our renewables truly are.  I think the key here is that it will have to be more economical to repurpose parts for other uses and cheaper than sending them to a landfill.  Or perhaps there could be tax cuts or other benefits to those who re-use vs sending to landfills.  

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