Vattenfall collaborates with designers to stimulate circularity of wind farms in What if Lab

12 April, 2024

During Dutch Design Week 2023, Vattenfall kicked off the What if Lab: Upcycled Turbines. In the months that followed, the four selected design studios worked together with Vattenfall to promote circularity in decommissioning wind turbines at the end of their technical lifespan. Read more about the background of the lab and the concepts below.

The materials used for renewable energy generate a stockpile that can be reused at the end of its lifespan. But how can this array of wind turbine components be reused efficiently and effectively? All creative and innovative minds are needed for the critical transitions in energy and resources that our society faces.

Over the past months, the design studios delved into the world of wind turbines. They analysed the characteristics of various components and had discussions with thought leaders, industry experts, researchers, and other designers.

At the end of the lab’s final phase, the design phase, the four participating design studios presented their concepts to Vattenfall and other stakeholders in the field. The concepts ranged from concrete applications to future visions for the energy sector. Are you curious about what cepezed, Superuse Studios, Studio Carbon, and Interactivist have designed? Then keep reading.

Thomas Hjort - Director Innovation Offshore Wind Energy, Vattenfall
With this What if Lab, we wanted to approach problem-solving differently, different than the usual way of working of our technical staff. It inspired me in ways I couldn't have foreseen.

Floating Platforms by cepezed

Most wind turbine materials can be recycled, but the blades pose a challenge because they are strongly optimised in terms of material and shape. Blades are designed to be robust, strong, and large. Cepezed’s proposal is to use the blades as intact as possible and give them a second life. Cepezed achieves this by using the optimised weight and hollow shape as buoyancy bodies. From this perspective, they can design floating platforms that can fulfil various functions. These new floating areas can provide answers to various problems in the world, such as housing shortages and rising sea levels.

Nestle by Superuse Studios/Blade–made

Superuse Studios introduces Nestle. Nestle is the transformation of a Vestas V80 Nacelle into a Tiny House of ±35m2 that fully complies with Dutch building regulations. By demonstrating this reuse, Superuse Studios could enable all 10,000+ Nacelles of this type to have a useful second life. For the interior, Superuse Studios has designed various basic configurations. Nestle could thus be used as a standalone office, exhibition space, addition to a home, or as a holiday accommodation along the beach, in the forest, or at a holiday park. Preferably as close as possible to the old wind turbine.

Jos de Krieger - Designer, Superuse Studios
One of the beautiful things about the What If Lab was that with four different designers, each with their own perspective, we could go our own way from the same starting question. This creates an atmosphere of collaboration rather than competition, where we can respond openly and substantively to each other's work.

Turbine Times by Interactivist

What if wind turbines could tell us about the cycles of their lives? What if they were more than a source of green energy, and communicated with us to share stories through the rhythms of nature?

Together with Vattenfall, Interactivist wanted to promote these milestones of the energy transition as a meaningful presence in our lives and embed them in our cultural and emotional landscape. The Turbine Times tells about the cycles of their lives through the language of data paintings, turning them into living, breathing entities that communicate, resonate, and connect with us. Within the synergy between sustainability and society, decommissioning is as much about preserving economic value as it is about preserving emotional value.

Vision 2050 by Studio Carbon

Studio Carbon explored questions about the decommissioning of turbines and its broader implications in the energy ecosystem. This research led them to a crucial insight: to understand the end of a turbine, we must reconsider the entire energy sector. Their solution consisted of three main components:

  1. System Map: Studio Carbon meticulously mapped the energy sector, identifying unique opportunities for circular innovation.
  2. Vision 2050: An experiential, feasible, and holistic vision for 2050. They envision the transformation of stand-alone wind farms into “Wind Forests,” serving as protectors of society and ecology.
  3. Backcasting Toolkit: By introducing a groundbreaking toolkit, they enabled Vattenfall stakeholders to develop step-by-step goals together to realise the vision for 2050.

What now?

The What if Lab may be over, but that’s not the end! Efforts are now underway to explore possible further development of the concepts. “I would like to see at least two physical pilots, a tiny house made from a nacelle, with various functions (perhaps also for a good cause), and to see the systematic approach come to life in backcasting workshops,” says Thomas Hjort. Efforts are also underway to explore how the lessons learned from this What if Lab can be implemented within Vattenfall. Hjort is lobbying to make data on parts and materials more accessible.

One thing we know for sure: during Dutch Design Week 2024, the concepts will take on physical form.