Components of wind turbines, such as towers and nacelles, can be recycled and reused, except blades that are usually disposed like garbage. However, the chemical process recycling technology developed by wind turbine manufacturers, such as Vestas, is now able to decompose all epoxy resin wind turbine blades.
Wind power, compared to other renewable energy, is relatively matured in technology from over 40 years of development, where offshore and floating offshore wind power, aside from onshore wind power, have become trending topics. With that being said, all machines are confined by their lifespan, and it is no exception for wind turbines. According to WindEurope’s statistics, 25K tons of wind turbine blades will be decommissioned each year starting from 2025, and the figure may climb to 52K tons by 2030.
Epoxy resin is a common material among wind turbine blades, and has been extensively applied for more than 30 years, but its flexible property that is difficult in decomposition and reuse makes it arduous for blade recycling. As a result, most of these wind turbine blades are either disposed at landfills or being combusted, which yield new environmental problems.
In order to resolve the recycling of wind turbine blades, scientists and wind turbine manufacturers have been exerting efforts in developing a corresponding recycling technology, or drafting new ideas for materials used for wind turbine blades. The CETEC Alliance established by Vestas, Danish Technological Institute, Olin, and Aarhus University, has now proposed a new method that could help to tackle the challenge of wind turbine recycling.
The new technology not only exempts from redesigning wind turbine blades, but also gives a second life to epoxy resin wind turbine blades that are piled up at landfills. Lisa Ekstrand, Head of Sustainability, Vestas Wind Systems, commented that the industry has been convinced that the solution lies on new blade designs and production methods, and believes that wind turbines can only be recycled and reused when they reach their end of lifespan.
It is clearly not all that complicated, as the research team pointed out that epoxy resin wind turbine blades can be used as raw materials directly, and the technology, once it is extensively implemented, would allow all discarded blade materials to return to the industry chain. Vestas, Stena Recycling, and Olin have now constituted a value chain, and are expanding the related processes whilst being dedicated towards commercialization.
(Cover photo source: Vestas)