No matter how beneficial the increase in wind power generation is, at the end of their lifespan, wind turbine blades end up in landfills. But now a major European manufacturer of wind turbines – Vestas of Denmark – has found a way to make the blades recyclable and circular.
Unlike the vast majority of turbine components that have established recycling loops, blade recycling has been a serious challenge. This is due to the presence of epoxy, an elastic substance that has previously proved problematic when it breaks down into reusable components.
“Until now, the wind industry has believed that turbine blade material requires a new approach to design and manufacturing to be either recyclable at end-of-life or beyond circular,” says Lisa Elkstrand, VP and Head of Sustainability at Vestas. called.
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The company’s solution is a novel chemical process that can break down epoxy into virgin materials. Vestas claims the process requires no changes in design or material composition. Additionally, it relies on widely used chemistries and boasts of its compatibility for industrialization and hence potential for easy scaling.
To develop this technology, the Danish manufacturer worked with Aarhus University, the Danish Technological Institute and epoxy manufacturer Olin – all partners in the CETEC initiative, which researches the recyclability of wind blades. Vestas will also use a newly established value chain with Olin and Stena Recycling to commercialize the chemical process.
The aim is to produce new turbine blades from material reused from existing blades at the end of service. In the future, the company plans to use epoxy-based composites for industries beyond wind energy.
“Once this new technology is implemented at scale, old blade material currently sitting in landfills, as well as blade material in active wind farms, can be dismantled and reused. This heralds a new era for the wind industry and accelerates our journey towards circularity,” added Elkstrand.
If Vestas’ technology achieves its mission, the potential benefits would be enormous. It is estimated that by 2025 around 25,000 tons of rotor blades will reach the end of their service life in Europe every year.
The focus on recycling wind blades has gained momentum in recent years as wind energy manufacturers such as Siemens Gamesa and Iberdola intensify their efforts. However, further initiatives are needed to boost this niche industry and this is why WindEurope, the continent’s wind power association, has called for a ban on wind blade disposal altogether.
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