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What To Do With Wind Power Waste: Recycling And Reimagining Turbines For The Long Haul
Did You know ? 08/12/2021

What To Do With Wind Power Waste: Recycling And Reimagining Turbines For The Long Haul

Companies are finding creative ways to make use of the thousands of turbines that come out of service every year.

As companies around the world are sprinting to manufacture more sustainable blades and greening their production processes.

By now, wind power is an established source of clean energy — and a visible one. But after a generation’s worth of wind turbines turning across fields and towering on floating platforms off our coasts, a collateral challenge is posed:

What to do with the risk of accumulating waste as wind power infrastructure grows old?

More and more of the massive turbine structures are reaching the end of their typical 20-year lifecycle, and the need to solve the mounting of waste is becoming urgent. While about 85% of turbine materials are recyclable, the blades themselves, requiring both strength and agility, are made from materials like glass fibers, resins, and foams — substances that are generally non-biodegradable and much more difficult to recycle.

As companies around the world are sprinting to manufacture more sustainable blades and greening their production processes, others are finding creative ways to make use of the thousands of turbines that come out of service every year:

Urban repurpose

design Under a project entitled “Re-Wind,” an interdisciplinary, multi-country research team comprising experts from City University of New York, Georgia Institute of Technology, University College Cork and Queen’s University Belfast are coming up with smart alternatives to unsustainable disposal methods such as landfill and incineration.

 The Re-Wind team explores the blades’ potential reuse in architectural and engineering structures, by turning them into protective bike shelters, or pedestrian bridges. In the port of Aalborg, Denmark, where wind power already provides 40% of the national energy demand, the network has constructed an unusual bicycle garage, made from actual wind turbines that were once in use.

  • In Ireland, the Cork Institute of Technology is working on recycling three recently decommissioned wind turbines from a Belfast farm. So far, several proposals have been considered field tests are underway — including repurposing the blades in skate parks, stadium bleachers, or sound barriers.


In northern Germany, a waste management company has found a way to fuel a cement plant with decommissioned turbineblades.

  • The method, pioneered by waste management solutions company Geocycle, starts at the wind farm where the blades are cut into 10-meter pieces and transported to a pre-processing plant. There, the blades are shredded into smaller pieces and the metals are separated by magnet. Finally, the crushed blade dust is mixed with a humid substrate material made of other residues such as packaging waste in order to bind together the blade dust.
  • At the cement plant, the waste-to-energy procedure is based on a dual process where the organic content of blade waste is recovered as thermal energy and the mineral fraction (resulting from the grinding of glass fibers) partially replaces the sand and carbon clay needed to make cement. The result is a 27% reduction in CO 2 emissions and a 13% reduction in water consumption.
  • So far, the LafargeHolcim group cement plant in Lägerdorf, Germany, is the only plant in Europe where this waste-to-energy technology has been implemented.

More efficient turbines

As the life cycle of turbines installed at Scotland’s Windy Standard farm will reach its end in 2027, the owner Fred Olsen Renewables is looking to both replace the old structures with new ones as well as recycle and repurpose the decommissioned materials.

  • While the farm’s planning conditions stipulate that all the original turbines should be removed and the land restored to its former condition after being in operation for 25 years, theowner hopes to "repower" the site - removing the existing turbines and replacing them with new, more powerful machines, using existing tracks and infrastructure on the hillside.

  • Currently, 36 turbines produce enough energy to power 16,000 homes. But with improved technology, doubling the power output would only require nine new structures — which could be three time taller than the existing ones.
  • While the Windy Standard turbines are made from 75% recyclable material, each tower has three 16.8-meter blades which cannot easily be recycled. Therefore, the firm is looking for inspiration from the Re-Wind network, as it also plans to turn old turbines into public seating, wind breaks and pedestrian bridges. It has also been suggested that some of the turbines be donated to universities to help train turbine technicians of the future.

Recyclable blades

Spain-based Siemens Gamesa has taken wind-power sustainability to the next level by pioneering the world’s first fully recyclable turbine blade, aptly named the RecyclableBlade.

  • Just like traditional blades, Siemens’ new structures are made by a combination of reinforcement materials that are embedded in a resin to form a strong and stiff lightweight structure. But the difference is the use of a new resin with a different chemical structure, which makes it possible to dissolve the resin in an efficient process at end-of-service life.
  • In order to separate the composite materials, the blade is submerged in a heated acidic solution for a few hours. Therefore, acid rain has no effect on the blades, as the process will only take place with both constituents there at the same time.
  • Once broken down in the acidic solution, the blade materials can be used in consumer goods, including flat-screen TVs and suitcases. The company estimates that if its blades are used on all new wind turbine schemes by 2050, 10 million tons of waste materials could be saved from landfill.


Elium-based blades

In France, a cross-sector consortium including ENGIE and French research center IRT Jules Verne has launched a project called ZEBRA withthe aim of manufacturing 100% recyclable turbine blades.

  • The broader goal is an end-to-end sustainable solution for the full value chain, where automated manufacturing will reduce energy consumption and waste, and new recycling methods will be used to turn the prototype blades into new products.
  • The project includes a new partnership with specialty chemicals and advanced materials company Arkema, that has developed a new type of resin (Elium) that will help the wind blades become fully recoverable after a depolymerization process. Elium-based blades also lowers energy consumption as it allows blades to be molded at a lower temperature.
  • The project, an ENGIE Innovation Trophies 2020 winner, was launched for a period of 42 months with a budget of €18.5 million.

    FIND OUT MORE : 100% recyclables wind turbines by ENGIE Green 

    Committed to improving
    the recycling of wind turbines in France, ENGIE has entered into a partnership with SUEZ, enabling the two companies to increase their skills through joint operations using their respective expertise.

    The blades of the future, 100% recyclable! - ZEBRA Project | ENGIE Innovation

    TO BE READ : Discover how wind turbines can be used to store renewable energy under the sea!

    Photo : SUPERUSE STUDIOS/Denis Guzzo)   

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