Researchers at Michigan State University (MSU), in the U.S., have developed a new turbine material called composite resin that is suitable for making windmill turbine blades. It can be recycled into various products such as car taillights, countertops, diapers and even gummy bears.
Why are windmills a pollution concern?
Wind energy is the cleanest form of renewable energy. However, generating electricity through this using large wind turbines can disrupt landscapes. These wind turbines have a negative impact on the environment.
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Wind turbine blades are made of fibreglass and can be half a football field in length. When it comes to changing these blades, disposal becomes a big issue. Many companies have discovered ways to recycle fibreglass into other materials, but most of the discarded blades end up in landfills where they do not decompose and affect soil fertility.
How can windmills be converted into sweets?
The research team made a new turbine material by combining glass fibres with synthetic polymer and a plant-derived one. Panels made of this composite resin were durable and strong enough to be used in automobiles and turbines. They dissolved these panels in fresh monomer and removed glass fibre to recast them into new products.
Besides turbine blades, researchers combined this resin with other minerals to produce a cultured stone that can be used to make household items such as sinks and countertops. They dissolved the thermoplastic resin in an alkaline solution, such as baking soda. This mixture released poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA), an acrylic material which is used for car taillights, windows and other objects. By raising the temperature of this mixture, the PMMA was converted into poly(methacrylic acid), a super-absorbent polymer that is used in making diapers. The alkaline solution also released potassium lactate, which can be purified to produce sweet treats such as sports drinks and candies.“We recovered food-grade potassium lactate and used it to make gummy bear candies, which I ate, ” said John Dorgan, Professor at MSU. The potassium lactate is an odourless and transparent liquid. It has antimicrobial properties which adjust acidity levels in food and, therefore, is used to prevent food spoilage.
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“A carbon atom derived from a plant, like corn or grass, is no different from a carbon atom that came from a fossil fuel,” said Dorgan. “It’s all part of the global carbon cycle, and we’ve shown that we can go from biomass in the field to durable plastic materials and back to foodstuffs.”
The research team has tested that the resin has the desired physical properties for wind turbines. They hope to manufacture some moderately sized blades for field testing. “The current limitation is that there’s not enough of the bioplastic that we’re using to satisfy this market, so there needs to be considered production volume brought online if we’re going to actually start making wind turbines out of these materials,” noted Dorgan.
The researchers presented their results at the fall meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).