Wind turbine recycling is an important task for the wind industry – and it is making significant progress in the right direction, according to WindEurope.
Wind turbines already have a recyclability rate of 85 percent to 90 percent. However, making the turbines 100 percent recyclable is an important task for the wind industry – and it is making significant progress in the right direction, according to WindEurope.
Most components of a wind turbine – the foundation, tower, components of the gearbox and generator – are recyclable and are treated as such. But turbine blades represent a specific challenge.
Wind turbine blades are made up of composite materials that boost the performance of wind energy by allowing lighter and longer blades. Today 2.5 million tonnes of composite material are in use in the wind sector globally.
The complexity of this composite material requires specific processes for recycling. Today, the main technology for recycling composite waste is through cement co-processing. The wind industry produces far less composite waste than other industries. It produces less composite waste than the building and construction sector, the electrical and electronics sector, the transportation sector, and the marine sector. And it does this, while also generating clean energy. Further development and industrialisation of alternative technologies like solvolysis and pyrolysis will provide the wind industry with additional solutions for turbine blades reaching their end-of-life, and will enable the industry to deliver zero-waste turbines.
Moving forward, the learnings from wind turbine recycling will then be transferred to other markets to enhance the overall sustainability of composites.
In January, Vestas had announced its plans for zero-waste turbines. Ambition like this is key: the end-of-life issue requires rapid action. The first generation of wind turbines are now starting to come to the end of their operational life and be replaced by modern turbines. 14,000 wind turbine blades will be decommissioned in Europe over the next five years. The recycling of these old blades is a top priority for the wind industry.
In the next five years, 12,000 wind turbines are expected to be decommissioned. Broadening the range of recycling options is critical for the industry’s development.
The industry has already teamed up with the chemical and compositors industries to find effective ways to do this. WindEurope, Cefic (the European Chemical Industry Council) and EUCIA (the European Composites Industry Association) have created a cross-sector platform to advance novel approaches to the recycling of wind turbine blades.