The wind energy industry is reinforcing collaboration with the chemicals and composites industries to address the growing problem of blade waste
The wind energy industry is reinforcing collaboration with the chemicals and composites industries to address the growing problem of blade waste.
WindEurope, the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) and European Composites Industry Association (Eucia) have created a cross-sector platform to advance novel approaches for recycling wind turbine blades.
In 2018 wind energy supplied 14% of the electricity in the EU with 130,000 wind turbines and this number will only grow in the coming decades.
Is it estimated that 2.5M tonnes of composite material are in use in the wind energy sector. 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.
WindEurope chief executive Giles Dickson said, “Wind energy is an increasingly important part of Europe’s energy mix. The first generation of wind turbines are now starting to come to the end of their operational life and will be replaced by modern turbines. Recycling the old blades is a top priority for us and teaming up with the chemical and compositors industries will enable us to do it the most effective way.”
Cefic director general Marco Mensink said, “The chemical industry plays a decisive role in the transition to a circular economy by investing in the research and development for new materials that can make wind turbine blades more reliable, affordable and recyclable. Innovation is born from collaboration and we look forward to working together to advance wind turbine blade recycling.”
Eucia president Roberto Frassine said, “The wind energy sector has always been at the forefront of using composites as they are instrumental to sustainable energy generation. With this collaboration we hope to set a great industry standard that ultimately will also help customers in other industries like marine and building and infrastructure.”
WindEurope said learnings from wind turbine recycling could be transferred to other markets to enhance the overall sustainability of composites. It noted that composite materials are being recycled today at commercial scale through cement co-processing, where raw materials are being partially replaced by the glass fibres and fillers in composites and the organic fraction in them replaces coal as a fuel.
Through that process, the CO2 output of the cement manufacturing process can be significantly reduced. A 16 % reduction is possible if composites represent 75% of cement raw materials.
Apart from recycling through cement co-processing, alternative technologies such as mechanical recycling, solvolysis and pyrolysis are being developed, providing the industry with other potential solutions for end-of-life.