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New energies 19/07/2021

Sustainability In Blades: Two Projects To Limit Wind Turbine Waste

 How do we limit waste of the wind turbines and the materials used to make them? Here is one invention to recycle old blades, and another to make them more sustainable for the future.

About 85% of turbine materials like steel, copper and electronics can be recycled, but the blades themselves are harder to recycle when reaching the end of their 25-year lifecycle.

As the energy transition keeps accelerating, wind power is projected to continue its role as one of the fastest-growing sources of energy — reaching 65GW of added capacity in 2020 with projections for 100GW of yearly deployment by 2025, according to the International Energy Agency.
But as wind turbines increase in both numbers and size to meet global clean-energy demand, another environmental question emerges: How do we limit waste of the wind turbines and the materials used to make them?
About 85% of turbine materials like steel, copper and electronics can be recycled, but the blades themselves — massive 40 to 90-meter structures made from glass or carbon-fibre reinforced composites — are harder to recycle when reaching the end of their 25-year lifecycle, and either end up at waste centers or as landfill.
Today, as wind turbines for the next quarter-century are being manufactured around the world, here is one invention to recycle old blades, and another to make more sustainable ones for the future:

Chemcycling

A Danish industry-academia coalition spearheaded by turbine company Vestas has developed a new recycling method for the thermoset composites of turbine blades.

  • Vestas’ two-step process involves the separation of fibre and epoxy — the main composites that achieves the low weight and high strength of turbine blades —  followed by a novel method called “chemcycling” that further breaks down the epoxy into base components that can be used in the manufacture of new turbine blades.
  • When fully developed, the innovative process may also have an impact for other industries that rely on thermoset composite in production, such as automotive and aviation.
  • The project aims to develop the technology for industrial scale production within three years.

Zero-waste blades

Further south, a cross-sector consortium including ENGIE and French research center IRT Jules Verne has launched a project to manufacture the wind industry’s first 100% recyclable turbine blade.

  • The ZEBRA consortium, also involving wind-energy leaders Arkema, CANOE, LM Wind Power, Owens Corning and Suez, seeks to demonstrate the technical, economic and environmental relevance of a thermoplastic product.
  • The 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.
  • A life cycle analysis will assess the environmental and economic viability of thermoplastic material in future wind turbine blades.
  • The project, an ENGIE Innovation Trophies 2020 winner, has been launched for a period of 42 months with a budget of €18.5 million.


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