Iowa company plans to recycle wind turbine blades using giant chipper

FAIRFAX — A new eastern Iowa business will soon start recycling wind turbine blades to prevent the massive fiberglass, wood and foam blades from taking up large amounts of landfill space.

Jeff Woods, director of business development at Travero, says the blades have to be handled very carefully when they’re removed from the towers, as each blade weighs between eight and ten tons.

“They’ll come down in the field as a whole blade, so up to 200 foot or longer, and from there, they’re processed into sections,” Woods says. “The sections are transported to various locations around the country or they can be shredded in the field. What we’re planning on receiving is the shredded material and taking that and breaking it down into the fibers.”

Those fibers can be used in things like mortar and concrete to reinforce sidewalks, roads and floors.

The balsa wood and foam inside the blades can also find new life. “Those are recycled into materials that have applications from cement finishing to soil stabilization,” he says.

Travero owns REGEN Fiber which has developed what Woods calls an eco-friendly process to convert decommissioned wind turbine blades into reusable materials. A REGEN Fiber factory is being built in the Cedar Rapids suburb of Fairfax to recycle the blades. Specially-trained crews will be dispatched to take apart wind turbines, as the blades have about a 20-year lifespan.

“Once they’re down and they’re cut into sections, they feed them through — for lack of a better description — a giant wood chipper to shred it down to material that is two foot long and smaller,” Woods says. “Traditionally though, that material has been taken to other locations and maybe refined a little bit and burned in cement kilns around the country. Some of it’s been landfilled, unfortunately.”

While Iowa has built a national reputation for both manufacturing and using wind turbines, Woods hopes this new venture will build on that reputation to also recycle the blades after they’ve served their purpose. He notes the company should have plenty of business for years to come.

“Research provided from Iowa State University was there are 68,000 or more wind towers in United States, three blades on each one, so over 200,000 blades that are out there turning today,” Woods says.

Once the Fairfax factory is in full swing, the goal is to recycle more than 30,000 tons of shredded blade material every year. REGEN Fiber is already recycling blade materials at a facility in Des Moines. Travero is owned by Alliant Energy Corporation.