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Producing glass wool and insulating building materials from wind turbine blades
Published on Thursday, January 23 2020
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Challenge Expiration Date: March 7, 2020
Enel Green Power (EGP) is looking for sustainable and economical processes to produce glass wool and insulating building materials by recycling wind turbine blades. EGP is the leader in the renewable energy sector and operates in Europe, Americas, Asia, Oceania and Africa.
This is an Ideation Challenge with a guaranteed award for at least one submitted solution.
The wind energy market has experienced an exponential growth in the last few decades, with thousands of wind turbines having been installed every year worldwide. Predictions indicate that the trend will go on for many more years, keeping wind energy at the forefront of renewable energy generation worldwide and helping the world to have safe, reliable and sustainable energy.
The average useful life of wind turbines is about 20 years. After this period, the mechanical and structural properties of the turbines decay and refurbishments in some cases might be necessary to extend their lifetime for a few more years, while in other cases, the wind turbines are dismantled. Whereas the biggest portion of wind turbine components are quite easy to recycle (i.e. metal parts), there is a small non-metallic portion of components that is less easy to recycle, namely the blades of the wind turbines. These are mostly made of composite materials (typically glass/carbon fibers + epoxy matrix), plus some other minor components/materials (e.g. glue and gelcoat), making this task particularly challenging.
As the first generations of wind turbine technology approach the end-of-life and must be dismantled, the need to find adequate methods to recycle the blades (and their components) gains increasing relevance and importance. Hence, Enel Green Power (EGP) is looking for the best available methods and processes to produce glass wool and insulating building materials from recycled wind turbine blades, in order to be more and more sustainable, under a circular economy perspective.
This Challenge provides contribution to the following Sustainable Development Goals:
- SDG 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
- SDG 11: Sustainable cities and communities
- SDG 12: Responsible consumption and production
- SDG 13: Climate action
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For questions about the challenge and your proposal you can contact EnelOpenInnovabilityChallenges@innocentive.com
During their lifetime, the use and the exposure to environmental conditions lead to the decay in wind turbine blades. At the end of the useful life (20 years) they can present:
- mechanical and structural decay as a consequence of years of stress and performance
- physical damages from aggressive environmental conditions (ice, rain erosion, sand, thermal hot/cold cycles during day/night and summer/winter, etc.)
meaning that they need to be repaired for the same function (if possible, taking into account that average wind turbines today are far bigger than the ones we had 20 years ago) or to be dismantled/recycled.
A typical wind turbine blade is a structure of a large magnitude in terms of size and weight, and is mostly made of composite materials (typically glass/carbon fibers + epoxy matrix), plus some other minor components/materials (e.g. glue and gelcoat). It is not possible to list the materials percentage or further details, since every blade and wind turbine manufacturer is using materials and compositions that may differ from each other. The most relevant part to be addressed is the composite one (typically glass/carbon fiber + epoxy), that represents more than 90% of the blade weight. The rest is typically adhesive and some other minor-weight materials (also some steel inserts that may be recycled). The sizes and weights of the blades can range roughly from 20 to 80 meters length and 4 to 20 tonnes; smaller ones will be dismantled in the next few years, while for bigger ones the residual useful life is still quite long.
Wind turbine blades installed 15-20 years ago were in the range of 20m (each, so the rotor diameter was around 40m); as of today, an average size for an onshore wind turbine blade is around 60m (solvers should take it as an indication as there are bigger ones). Here below some approximate dimensions of the main sections. Again, they shall be intended as an indication. Solvers can then consider that blades tapers linearly from the max-width section to the tip.
- Blade width/diameter @ blade root:
- 20m blade: 1.5-2.5m
- 60m blade: 4-5m
- Blade width @ max chord (20-30% of blade length, from the root):
- 20m blade: 2-3m
- 60m blade: 5-6m
- Blade width @ tip:
- 20m blade: Less than 0,5m
- 60m blade: Less than 1m
The cost to manufacture each blade varies considerably. The range is 50 -150k€ (old and smalls ones – new and big ones).
Enel Green Power is looking for the best – on a sustainability, effectiveness, and cost perspective – available methods or processes to produce glass wool and/or insulating building materials from wind turbine blades, in order to define a proper business chain to be more and more sustainable, under a circular economy perspective. Alternative uses may be considered if volume of demand is sufficient. The ideal solution envisions the whole value chain within home and building manufacturing, rather than focusing on a specific technology.
Submissions should address the following Solution Requirements:
- guarantee the production of glass wool and/or materials that can be adopted in the building construction sector, such as for example insulating materials (e.g. insulation panels).
- address, at least, the entire material portion of the blades and should not produce any kind of waste. Solutions that can recycle and reuse 100% of the blades’ materials without producing any kind of waste will be rated higher in this requirement. Solutions that cannot achieve this must however address the separation and adequate disposal of the unused materials and components.
- don't produce any type of pollutants that could have a negative effect on the ecosystem.
- cost-effective and has to take into account the total cost of recycling (life cycle analysis, LCA) compared to the use of the alternative materials available for the proposed new use.
- capable of dealing with large amounts of materials. A wind turbine blade weighs a few tones, each wind turbine has three blades and a wind farm can may be composed of a small number of wind turbines, or more than one hundred. Therefore the total amount of material from a single wind farm can easily reach up to 1000 tones or far more for the big ones. Therefore Enel Green Power is seeking sustainable disposition solutions for several hundred blades at multiple project locations in various countries. The proposed solution must therefore consider and address these amounts of material.
- address, as much as possible, geographically local opportunities for recycle, in order to avoid or minimize transporting the blades for long distances due to the size, weight and scale of the materials (even if cut into pieces).
- be capable of being deployed globally, hence following environmental and safety best practices and taking into consideration laws and regulations for material handling and disposal.
The submitted proposal should include the following:
- Detailed description of the proposed method or process that allows for a feasibility assessment by EGP and includes (but is not limited to):
- A description of all chemical/mechanical/physical processes involved
- Details on the materials/components streams resulting from the process, from a chemical/mechanical/physical point of view
- A description on how materials/components resulting from the process shall be used in the building construction sector
- Reference to any chemical substance applied, if any, and its effect on the product
- A description of any potential waste product resulting from the proposed process and how it should be disposed (the proposed solution should avoid the production of waste)
- A detailed quantitative and qualitative assessment of the environmental impact, of the proposed overall process, on the ecosystem (i.e. any further emissions and/or pollutants resulting from blade transportation, treatments, etc.)
- A description of the necessary infrastructure, logistics to move the blades, and cost calculations would help and shall be added, if possible
- A detailed description of the overall cost of the process, with a focus on its cost-effectiveness
- Data, case studies, patent and journal references or any additional material that supports the proposed solution.
The proposal should not include any personal identifying information (name, username, company, address, phone, email, personal website, resume, etc.) or any information the Solvers may consider as their Intellectual Property they do not want to share.
All proposers are invited to read carefully the challenge and the Regulation of this challenge, attached below in the Attachments section, before to submit a solution.
Explain your proposal clearly and attach documents if needed (max 5 files, 25MB total size).
The employees of the companies of the Enel Group who are involved in the organization and management of the Competition and all the people admitted to the Open Innovability Portal back office, as well as their spouses or partners and their relatives up to the fourth degree, are not eligible for participation in this Challenge.
Also, employees of the companies of Enel Green Power S.p.A. who have worked in the technical sector of the wind turbines innovation field and that work, at the moment of the competition, on the wind turbines blades recycling activities, or their spouses, partners or any of their relatives up to the fourth grade determined according to Italian law are not eligible for the participation to this Challenge.
Challenge, award, IP rights
This is an Ideation Challenge, which has the following unique features:
- There is a guaranteed award for at least one solution. The awards will be paid to the best submission(s) as solely determined by the Seeker. The total payout will be $10,000. In case of multiple awarded solutions (maximum six (6)), there will be at least one submission receiving an award no smaller than $5,000, while the others won’t be smaller than $1,000.
- The Solvers are not required to transfer exclusive intellectual property rights to the Seeker. Rather, by submitting a proposal, the Solver grants to the Seeker a royalty-free, perpetual, and non-exclusive license to use any information included in this proposal, including for promotional purposes.
Submissions to this Challenge must be received by 11:59 PM (Central European Time) on March 7, 2020.
Late submissions will not be considered.
Specific regulation in the CSA attached at the bottom of this page.
What happens next?
After the Challenge deadline, the Seeker will complete the review process and make a decision with regards to the Winning Solution(s). All Solvers that submit a proposal will be notified on the status of their submissions; however, no detailed evaluation of individual submissions will be provided. Enel will evaluate the proposal using the following criteria: In case the reward includes “Collaboration with Enel”, once suitable solution/s have been identified, Enel will reserve the opportunity to start a collaboration, by way of example, all or part of the following activities: Upon completion of the evaluation, you will receive feedback. In case of success, an Enel contact person will get in touch with you to discuss the next steps. The final award for this Challenge is contingent upon satisfactory completion of the verification process, including acceptance of the Challenge-Specific Agreement (CSA) that is the regulation for this Challenge. The verification process includes obtaining the following from the Solver: signed affidavit (based on the CSA), employee waiver (if applicable), and proof of identify. ABOUT INNOCENTIVE InnoCentive collaborates with Enel to manage this challenge. InnoCentive is the global innovation marketplace where creative minds solve some of the world's most important problems for cash awards up to $1 million. Commercial, governmental and humanitarian organizations engage with InnoCentive to solve problems that can impact humankind in areas ranging from the environment to medical advancements
After the Challenge deadline, the Seeker will complete the review process and make a decision with regards to the Winning Solution(s). All Solvers that submit a proposal will be notified on the status of their submissions; however, no detailed evaluation of individual submissions will be provided.
Enel will evaluate the proposal using the following criteria:
In case the reward includes “Collaboration with Enel”, once suitable solution/s have been identified, Enel will reserve the opportunity to start a collaboration, by way of example, all or part of the following activities:
Upon completion of the evaluation, you will receive feedback.
In case of success, an Enel contact person will get in touch with you to discuss the next steps.
The final award for this Challenge is contingent upon satisfactory completion of the verification process, including acceptance of the Challenge-Specific Agreement (CSA) that is the regulation for this Challenge.
The verification process includes obtaining the following from the Solver: signed affidavit (based on the CSA), employee waiver (if applicable), and proof of identify.
InnoCentive collaborates with Enel to manage this challenge.
InnoCentive is the global innovation marketplace where creative minds solve some of the world's most important problems for cash awards up to $1 million. Commercial, governmental and humanitarian organizations engage with InnoCentive to solve problems that can impact humankind in areas ranging from the environment to medical advancements