On 22 September 2020, the ZEBRA (Zero wastE Blade ReseArch) consortium was launched. Led by IRT Jules Verne, it brings together leading players and technical centres around an ambitious project addressing the design and production of the first 100 % recyclable wind turbine blade. Alongside Canoe, Engie, LM Wind Power, Owens Corning and Suez, Arkema is contributing to the development of environmentally friendly and sustainable solutions for wind power with its high performance materials.
The production of wind energy, both on shore and off shore, is expected to play a major role in the transition towards low-carbon energies. Yet, in this market which counts annual growth of 12 – 15%, tens of thousands of blades are produced around the world every year. These blades use composites based on thermoset resins, which are very difficult to recycle and are therefore most often buried or incinerated at the end of their life cycle, with a significant environmental impact.
With its Elium thermoplastic liquid resin and its structural adhesives, Arkema offers an innovation in the composites market, opening up new perspectives in many sectors, and especially in the production of wind turbine blades. According to the company, Elium resin-based composite parts:
- can be used on the same production lines as those currently used for composite parts based on thermosetting resins: many industrial projects have already been validated with the resin, e.g., the infusion manufacturing of racing monohulls or multihulls, the pultrusion of reinforcing bars and cables for the construction industry and automotive parts.
- are 100 % recyclable through a mechanical or chemical recycling process of scraps and end-of-life composite parts. The parts are first ground and then heated to depolymerise the resin so that it can be separated from the fibre filler. After purification and reformulation, a new liquid thermoplastic resin is obtained with the same characteristics as the virgin resin.
Arkema’s Elium thermoplastic resin is said to be key to the ZEBRA consortium, as the project focuses on developing and optimising each stage of the manufacturing process to reach 100 % recyclability. Thanks to the resin’s good physical-mechanical properties combined with its complete recyclability, confirmed by a large number of test results, it will enable the wind energy sector to take a major step forward, in particular by enabling to include this criterion in the tender specifications. Furthermore, the ability to chemically recycle the resin enables it to be used “ad infinitum”, preserving the same properties as a virgin resin, making this technology a perfect fit for the circular economy, said Arkema. The company said its ambition is to provide sustainable and innovative solutions, contributing to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and more specifically with this project, to SDG 7: “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”.
“Recycling end-of-life wind turbines is a major industrial and environmental challenge for the wind power industry, due to the considerable volumes involved. Being at the heart of the ZEBRA project, thanks to our expertise and our wide range of polymers for composites, we are contributing to the performance of the wind energy sector by aligning it with an operational circularity approach,” said Guillaume Clédat, Global sales and development director for Elium resin.
Beyond the wind power market, Elium resin enables the production of a wide variety of fibreglass or carbon-fibre-composite thermoplastic parts of all sizes and with complex shapes. Its economic benefit comes from two major characteristics: its ease of implementation with short hardening times at room temperature and its compatibility with the numerous technologies for processing existing thermosetting resins, thus limiting investments for fabricators already equipped with these machines and opening up a vast range of developments in many sectors such as transportation, construction and the boating industry.
On 26 October 2020, Arkema announced that it has won the 2020 Pierre Potier Prize for its Elium liquid thermoplastic resin for wind turbines. Created in 2006 by the Ministry for the Economy, Finance and Industry and now sponsored by the Maison de la Chimie Foundation and France Chimie, the Pierre Potier Prize highlights and rewards initiatives in the field of chemistry that promote sustainable development as well as the development of eco-responsible approaches in the sector. Arkema has already received the Pierre Potier Prize:
- In 2016, for its Kynar fluorinated polymer with durable hydrophilic properties for the manufacture of hollow fibres used in ultrafiltration modules for water purification.
- In 2013, for its high-temperature polymer Rilsan-HT, the first thermoplastic in the polyphthalamide (PPA) family, produced up to 70 % from castor oil and used as a replacement for metal or rubber in under-the-cowl automotive applications.