The International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA) announced on Friday that the Irish pilot project “Repurposing Windfarm Blades,” by Clare Local Development Company, has been named as the Best New Initiative (BNI), in the prestigious UIAA 2023 Mountain Protection Award (MPA). The Clare initiative plans to turn old wind turbine blades into walking trail infrastructure, aiming to reduce the impact of wind farming on the environment, while modelling Circular Economy and helping raise awareness around reusing materials on a larger scale.
Windfarms in Ireland are generally situated in the upland areas, and this project will take redundant turbine blades and repurpose them into walking trail infrastructure like bridges and stiles, in this environment. This is the first project to use existing upland infrastructure to create trail infrastructure for the benefit of trail users. Currently, trail infrastructure is sourced from generic suppliers, mostly international companies involving large transport costs and environmental damage. This project keeps all the elements as local as possible, using local windfarms, local facilities, local trails, and local contractors wherever possible. Upgraded walking trails around Clare will showcase an innovative approach to the circular economy, and the project hopes to raise awareness and start conversations about repurposing waste materials.
The project was initiated by Clare Local Development Company (CLDC,) supported by Bladebridge from Universiy College Cork, and endorsed by Mountaineering Ireland. The first phase of the project is to repurpose the wind turbine blades that have reached end of life on wind farms into pedestrian bridges, stiles and seating on walking trails on the Cliffs of Moher Coastal Path. This is the busiest walking trail in Ireland with an excess of 600k users annually. A side project will be initiated to develop stiles and seating from repurposed blades.
Repurposing of this material is higher on the waste hierarchy than recycling, and higher than the conventional disposal methods of landfilling or incineration, or co-processing of the material into cement. The goals of the project are to firstly trial the repurposing of turbines into trail infrastructure on walking trails in County Clare, and then once installed and tested roll out the project via the Rural Recreation Officer network to other trails in Ireland; and finally promote the concept via international trail programmes.
“Provided the pilot phase of the project is successful, it will have a hugely positive environmental as well as social impact through education, awareness raising about circular economy, sustainable resource management and disposal. The way the project taps into local landowners, hiking, walking, guiding groups, people who make their living on the land that the trail it is targeting goes through, really speaks to a strong land ethic – something that mountain and upland cultures around the world share,” said the UIAA Assessment Team.
Eoin Hogan, the Rural Recreation Officer for CLDC who has headed this project, spoke with UIAA. “These new bridges will allow more walkers to enjoy the beautiful Cliffs of Moher trail in Co. Clare while respecting the local environment and keeping used blade materials out of landfills,” Eoin said. “We hope that the award will highlight this project as an example of how to change perceptions of ‘waste’ and to imagine new opportunities to improve the environment by repurposing used materials. For us, this project will be a success if people use the bridges, appreciate the design and the materials, talk about them, and see the benefit of repurposing materials to create new infrastructure and products.”