Denmark, as one of the leading countries in green energy, generates 48% of its electricity from wind power. Its goal is to elevate the ratio of wind power to 70% by 2030. Although wind power is a natural energy source compared to coal and natural gas, it can still be tricky to use due to the problems associated with the disposal of decommissioned wind turbine blades. Now, the Danish government is ready to work with non-governmental organizations on tackling this tricky problem.
Wind Turbines usually have a lifespan of 20-25 years, and approximately 85% of turbine components, including steel, copper wire, electronics equipment, and gear devices, can be recycled or reused after decommissioning. The issue lies on the blades, which are enormous, and can be longer than the wings of Boeing 747, whereas the composite materials used for the blades, including glass fiber, resin, and foam, for the purpose of conforming to the significant level of intensity during operation of wind turbines, are usually non-biodegradable, which makes recycling and reuse a troublesome task.
Decommissioned wind turbine blades are usually transported to landfills for burial after being dissected with industrial saws mounted with diamond, and would occupy a large area in a short period of time, which is not a sustainable solution. According to the coverage by the Bloomberg News, there will be roughly 8,000 units of dissected blades in the next four years in merely the US, and approximately 3,800 units of decommissioned blades are pending for disposal in Europe by 2022, with most of them being constructed more than a decade ago when the installation was less than 1/5 of the current level. Hence, the issue is only going to aggravate in the future.
A specific estimation indicates that the global wind power industry will produce nearly 40 million tons of waste that require disposal by 2050. More than half of Denmark’s electricity came from wind and solar power in 2019, where the towering wind turbines have become a feature of the country. The Danish government has commissioned several companies to shoulder the recycling mission, with a few businesses and research panels now seeking for methods that are more sustainable in recycling and reusing decommissioned wind turbine blades.
Wind turbine system designer and manufacturer Siemens Gamesa under Siemens Energy has released the first recyclable commercial wind turbine blade, which is made by the latest type of resin, where the chemical structure allows easier blade decomposition and separation from other components, making the task of recycling an easier process. The company aims to produce wind turbines that can be fully recycled by 2040.
The Re-Wind Network is also participating in the repurposing of wind turbine blades by transforming these giant blades into canopies, footbridges, and car parks, as well as the sound barriers for roads and highways. Re-Wind Network commented that wind turbine blades are advantageous in the way that they can be formed with a minor level of materials, and utilized repeatedly, as well as explore the potential applications of old turbine blades within Danish architecture and engineering. Apart from the durability and sound insulation, the streamline design can also enhance contemporary aesthetics for the city landscape through design, and it would be a waste if all they get at the end is a burial.
(Cover photo source: Flickr/steve p2008 CC BY 2.0)