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3D printing plastic scraps to create wind turbines

Introduction: In recent years, wind power has been developed around the world to provide a more sustainable alternative to electricity production. In the United States, for example, total annual electricity generation from wind power has increased from 6 billion kilowatt hours in 2000 to about 380 billion kilowatt hours in 2021. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), this represents about 9.2% of total utility-scale electricity generation in the United States. There are still many challenges ahead to overcome, but progress is worth acknowledging. Among these challenges, some customers argue that wind turbines cannot be built unconditionally, while also considering the recyclability of the blades produced.

From Waste to Wind, a Belgian association was formed to address these challenges, Antarctic Bear has learned. It uses additive manufacturing technology, primarily fused deposition modeling (FDM), to design wind turbines from recycled plastic. Bram, the founder of the nonprofit From Waste to Wind, had earlier gained valuable experience researching the environmental impact of large wind turbines in the Flemish government sector. From Waste to Wind has already received an international award and additional support from the Antwerp Climate Fund in Belgium.

Background on the creation of From Waste to Wind

While working for the Flemish government, Bram noticed that there was still a lot of resistance to the rollout of wind turbines. Although there were already fairly strict rules in place to limit the environmental impact of wind turbines, people were not aware of them. They feared that wind turbines would cause noise pollution and block their view, so they didn’t want them in their gardens. To get people to look at wind power differently, Bram started experimenting with old barrels for wind turbines, and magnets from old hard drives, and met like-minded partners on the Internet.

Bram now works with Time Circus, a charity group that makes all sorts of things from recycled materials, and they also run Loods 21 and Bar Paniek in Belgium. time circus’s original homemade wind turbine blades were made from PVC sewer pipe, which was not very UV resistant, and the blades had broken, causing the power failure. Eventually, Bram bought a printer for 200 euros and repaired the blades using 3D printing.

Plastic printing is sometimes not as easy as it looks; it can shrink and warp, and it took Bram several months to get it right. Later, Bram printed a completely custom wind turbine, measuring 20x20x20 cm. This wind turbine worked well for several months, and it won Bram a $10,000 prize at Hackaday, an international platform for innovative creators, which was a great encouragement for them.

To break down barriers to renewable energy, especially small-scale wind energy, and bring energy production closer to people, Bram created the From Waste to Wind Association. The company’s current business model focuses on doing research and raising awareness, which they do with prizes and subsidies. In addition, they have received a grant from the City of Antwerp Climate Fund, which is a great boost to the company’s philanthropic goals.

3D printing for sustainability

The recycling of also blades for wind turbines has been a big problem, as the fibers and resin cannot be separated when they reach the end of their service life after 20 years. The only thing that can be done is to grind them up and put them in landfills or reuse them in asphalt. In the US, they are often buried in landfills.

Pure plastic blades can be fully recycled, unlike the glass fiber reinforced blades used by other manufacturers. Bram deliberately chose to print reinforced plastics without added fibers. Because with today’s recycling methods, plastics are still “contaminated” and have much less potential for reuse. Today, much of the plastic waste is generated during the printing process, and then there is an unclear origin of the material. For example, PLA biomaterial may be produced somewhere and then shipped to another industrial facility where it is processed into filament. That’s why Bram chose to use rPET, which is made from recycled PET, the same plastic used in plastic bottles. It has to be recycled anyway, and it’s already available locally, and it also has better mechanical properties than PLA.

From Waste to Wind’s future projects

From Waste to Wind plans to create larger wind turbines, up to 4 meters long, which will generate 50% of the energy needed to complement photovoltaic power in an average home. They also plan to connect all the wind turbines to a computer so that the consumer can always see how much energy his wind turbine produces and also safety parameters such as vibrations. Currently, From Waste to Wind is developing its own MPPT controller, which will be completely open source.

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