New collaboration breathes life into ageing wind turbines

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WIND turbines are being given a new lease of life in a partnership to refurbish and remanufacture components that may otherwise end up in landfill.

Collaboration between the University of Strathclyde and Renewable Parts Limited (RPL), a Renfrew-based independent supply chain specialist of wind turbine components, aims to help fuel a greener after-market.

Dr Fiona Sillars, Knowledge Exchange Manager from Strathclyde University, said: “This project will drive change within the wind industry, provide new refurbishment solutions that will benefit the circular economy in Scotland, reduce waste and enhance technology acquisition and local employment in high skilled jobs.

“The components that approach the end of their operational life or have failed are refurbished, rather than being disposed of to landfill or steel recycling, and replaced with brand new ones.”

The operational life cycle of a wind turbine is typically estimated to only be 20 years.

This means that many wind farms are now nearing the end of their lifespan and are no longer under the service contracts of the original supplier.

Legacy fleets can become increasingly problematic to manage as technology moves on.

As turbines age, components increasingly wear out, and a reduced supply of older generation parts compounds the problem.

The University’s Advanced Materials Research Laboratory (AMRL), which supports commercial projects across all sectors of engineering, and RPL, which has its main refurbishment centre in Lochgilphead, Argyll, have teamed up to identify parts with the potential to be remanufactured or refurbished.

The project aims to drive a culture change in the wind industry to reduce waste and the carbon footprint.

RPL were awarded a £9.5k grant from the Energy Technology Partnership’s KEN Engagement Fund for an early study to evaluate which turbine parts to focus on for further work, and became the first SME in the wind industry to receive Zero Waste Scotland funding.

The project also received £20,000 funding from the Scottish Institute for Remanufacturing, which facilitates collaborations between academia and industry.

The University’s Electronic and Electrical Engineering department analysed the company’s data to identify likely components which can then be sold back to wind farm operators after refurbishment.

This provides a cost effective, environmentally friendly alternative to buying new, producing savings of up to 40 percent.

Engineers use root cause analysis to identify and assess why parts fail and to develop refurbishment solutions that can reduce future failure rates.

It may also allow better predictability of when parts might fail, enabling customers to plan inventory more effectively.