Major Danish offshore wind power supplier Orsted is dedicated in resolving the difficult recycling of wind turbine blades, and has recently proposed a 3R vision, where all decommissioned wind turbine blades will be reused, recycled, and recovered. The company believes that it is responsible for seeking recycling solutions for wind turbine blades.
One single unit of wind turbine contains more than 8,000 pieces of components, and although 85-90% of them can be recycled and reused, the one major issue lies on the recycling of wind turbine blades, which has been troubling the industry for quite some time now. Wind turbine blades are made of composite materials that are not easy in recycling. There are approximately 2.5 million tons of composite materials used in wind turbines each year around the world, with slightly differentiated designs for each supplier. Orsted commented that most wind turbine blades are incinerated or buried after decommission.
The installed capacity of offshore wind power will only increase perpetually in the future. The EU hopes to exceed 60GW in the relevant installed capacity by 2030, before reaching 300GW in 2050, and the UK has also stipulated the 40GW target by 2030, whereas the US and several Asian countries are currently developing offshore wind power in an extensive scale.
An enormous degree of burden will be introduced to the environment if a recycle and reuse method is not found. Orsted believes that the company may temporarily preserve the decommissioned blades if the approval time of the solution takes longer than expected.
Several teams and businesses have started on the study of blade recycling, such as Danish wind turbine giant Vestas, who announced in January 2020 regarding the target of developing zero-waste wind turbines by 2040, and hopes that the blades can be recycled and reused after the wind turbines reach their end of life.
GE Renewable Energy signed a long-term contract with environmental solution provider Veolia North America (VNA) in December 2020 on the recycle of onshore wind turbine blades. The former commented then that these blades will be sent to the Missouri plant of VNA, before delivered to the cement industry, as 90% (weight) of the materials contained in the blades can be reprocessed and used as the alternatives for coal, gravel, and clay.
The wind power industry also unfolded the DecomBlades project in January 2021 in the hope of gathering the knowledge and power of multiple businesses, as well as seeking for solutions and creating a value chain for wind turbine blades. The project is participated by Orsted, LM Wind Power (a subsidiary of GE Renewable Energy), Vestas, Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy, FLSmidth, Makeen Power, HJ Hansen Recycling, Energy Cluster Denmark (ECD), University of Southern Denmark (SDU), and Technical University of Denmark (DTU).
University of Strathclyde, as well as Norway-based Aker Offshore Wind and Aker Horizons, signed a MOU in April 2021, hoping to resolve the challenges presented in the recycling of wind turbine blades.
(Cover photo source: Orsted)