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Here's how one Iowa company is taking wind turbine blades out of the landfill

The patent pending, proprietary process is held close to the chest of REGEN Fiber, a subsidiary of Alliant Energy — but it could reap big environmental rewards.

STUART, Iowa — Unfortunately, wind turbine blades do not last forever. Their lifespan generally ranges between 20 and 25 years. After that, the fate of blades and the turbine body itself can vary pretty significantly.

Most of the materials in the turbine itself are easily recyclable, but the blades, made of a fiberglass composite material, are more difficult to process. But within the past year or so, a few companies across the country, including one here in Iowa, are making massive progress in accomplishing that recycling goal.

REGEN Fiber, owned by Travero, which is a subsidiary of Alliant Energy, is that company.

"Our solution was driven by the fact that we wanted to find a truly circular, recycled solution for renewable energy," said Jeff Woods, director of business development at Travero told Local 5 Tuesday.

The process to recycle the blades was piloted at a facility in Des Moines. 

REGEN Fiber declined Local 5's request to tour the facility and get a look at how the recycling process works, but there are essentially three end products that are made.

Credit: REGEN Fiber
Chopped glass fibers are used for asphalt paving, and for engineered BMC & composite materials.
Credit: REGEN Fiber
FRP = fiber-reinforced polymer. These fibers improve concrete and mortar applications with increased strength and durability.
Credit: REGEN Fiber
FRP = fiber-reinforced polymer. These micro fibers are also used across concrete & mortar industries, as well as for soil stabilization.

All three products benefit concrete, asphalt and similar industries, especially since they reduce the carbon footprint on both sides of the equation, according to Woods.

The exact quantity of CO2 that will be removed from the atmosphere is unknown, but considering the scale of operations at a new facility that will be built in Linn County, the number will likely be pretty significant.

Once that facility in Fairfax is up and running later this year, REGEN Fiber anticipates recycling over 30,000 tons of shredded blade materials every year. 

That works out to be around 3,000 blades — and with three blades on each turbine, around a thousand turbines worth of blades each year will be processed.

Of course, the best part of it all, it's happening right here at home. 

"This is an Iowa process. This is homegrown," Woods added. "The folks that really came up with the research behind this are from Iowa."

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