August 24, 2022 — Researchers at Michigan State University in the US have found a solution for wind turbine blades ending up in landfills – turning them into gummy bears.
Scientists made a resin to create the new blades which turned out to have many different uses, one of them being the creation of new food ingredients.
By dissolving the thermoplastic resin in an alkaline solution (such as regular baking soda), it released poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA), which was then used to produce potassium lactate.
The compound can be purified and made into treats such as candies and sports drinks.
“We salvaged food-grade potassium lactate and used it to make gummy candies, which I ate,” comments John Dorgan, Ph.D., research project manager.
While wind turbines are a green energy alternative, often when they are no longer usable they end up in landfills.
Scientists have found a few solutions to make turbine blades reusable by using a composite resin to initially create them. Once the blade has served its purpose, its materials can be broken down chemically and physically to create new items such as gummy bears, as well as counters, car taillights, and diapers.
Still, some might have reservations about the consumption of what was once a wind turbine.
Concerns about machine consumption
Some consumers may have reservations about eating something that was once machinery. However, Dorgan has a point about the safety of eating products containing potassium lactate from its wind turbines.
“A carbon derived from a plant, like corn or grass, is no different than a carbon derived from a fossil fuel,” Dorgan says. “It’s all part of the global carbon cycle, and we’ve shown that we can go from biomass on the ground to sustainable plastic materials and back to food.”
Specifically, potassium lactate has antimicrobial properties. It is a clear, odorless liquid used to adjust acidity levels in foods, which is commonly used to prevent food spoilage and pathogenic bacteria.
Consuming used objects for circularity
The amount of turbine blades that will end up in landfills is only expected to increase. The projection is because larger wind turbines are more efficient and will replace current sizes, while still operating efficiently.
“Often, wind farms will replace wind turbine blades before the end of their lifespan, because farms can generate more electricity with larger blades.”
However, when not used for edible treats, the materials are reused over and over again by dissolving the polymer with monomers, giving the wind turbines much longer reusability and life than they possess. currently.
“The beauty of our resin system is that at the end of its use cycle, we can dissolve it, and that releases it from whatever matrix it’s in so it can be used again and again. still in an infinite loop,” Dorgan concludes.
This isn’t the first time scientists have toyed with the idea of consuming inedible objects as food for circularity. British researchers have previously developed a new way to use plastic waste as a food industry resource by converting post-consumer PET into vanillin through a series of chemical reactions.
The team at the University of Edinburgh lab engineered E. coli to convert terephthalic acid – a molecule derived from PET – into the molecule known to give vanilla its characteristic taste and smell. Scientists demonstrated the technique by converting a used plastic bottle into vanillin.
Edited by Sabine Waldeck
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