The ‘green team’ turning disused wind turbines into stylish street and garden furniture
Often vaunted as one of the most reliable and affordable sources of clean energy, wind power is facing significant PR issues as the true cost of its environmental impact gradually becomes apparent.
However, one Polish firm is now striking back by offering pioneering solutions to deal with the previously unrecyclable waste created by wind turbines.
“The number of composites from wind turbines that need to be recycled each year runs into tens of thousands of tons,” says Marcin Sobczyk of Anmet, “and although turbines are approximately 85 to 90% recyclable, we’re seeing problems arise with components such as the blades.”
With the University of Cambridge determining that wind turbines could generate 43 million tons of waste by 2050, ‘wind waste’ has become a problem that can no longer be ignored.
Yet as the hazards have become clearer, so too has the fightback. Whereas, traditionally-speaking, defunct propeller blades have simply ended up in landfill sites or subjected to high-energy processes such as milling or pyrolysis, across the globe a growing clique of firms are adopting a more experimental approach to counter the issue.
Active in the recycling trade for twenty-one years, Anmet, based in the small town of Szprotawa in west Poland, are a case in point, with their subsidiary, AIRchitecture, established last year specifically to deal with propellers and turbines.
In a short time, the results have been palpable with AIRchitecture’s team winning industry-wide praise for giving previously unrecyclable material a second life as street and garden furniture that is as durable as it is stylish and futuristic.
“We spent last year creating these elements and we debuted them at the start of this year at fairs such as Katowice’s 4DesignDays,” says Sobczyk. “The reaction has already been overwhelmingly positive, and we’ve already sold a few elements – others, we’ve given for free to exhibitions, though our principal target customers are set to be municipalities, housing developers, architects and companies looking to create a chillout zone in or around their offices.”
Welcome as these innovations have been, they pale when compared to AIRchitecture’s most ambitious project to date: a 23-metre pedestrian footbridge built from propeller blades.
“It’s difficult to choose a favourite project,” says Sobczyk, “but the footbridge has to be up there, and not just because of its scale, but because it solves actual problems: i.e., how to facilitate passage across a river.”
Reputedly the first firm in the world to offer such a solution, the idea – which was first coined by the company’s owner, Andrzej Adamcio – stands to be a gamechanger with the very nature of the material ensuring that the bridge won’t require as much maintenance as its classic steel or wooden alternatives.
Having already passed safety tests conducted by the firm, and with a patent application being processed, the bridge is currently undergoing even more stringent, EU-funded examination at Rzeszów’s University of Technology where a new calculation method to measure the strength of such bridges is being developed. It’s been a case of so far, so good.
“As it turns out,” says Sobczyk, “it appears the bridge is actually far stronger than needed.”
That AIRchitecture have made it all look so effortless belies the nature of the work at hand.
“Just dismantling a wind turbine is a very complex operation,” says Sobczyk, “which is why we cooperate with industry specialists such as crane operators, liquid recyclers and companies capable of removing a turbine’s foundations.”
Sometimes involving as many as 20 technicians, the challenges of the work require extraordinary precision and expertise, a fact that has made AIRchitecture leaders in their field – a point reflected in the demand for their services.
“We offer dismantling solutions not just in Europe,” says Sobczyk, “but also beyond. For example, right now we’re negotiating to dismantle 100 turbines in Morocco.”
This demand, though, could yet grow further, particularly if steps are taken to make wind power operators more accountable – something many view as an ethical necessity given the planet’s environmental struggles.
“These owners and operators earn good money,” says Sobczyk, “so in my opinion there’s no reason why they can’t put some aside for recycling – just burying something in the ground where it will remain for a thousand years is, at the very least, unethical.”