With a goal of reusing more materials from decommissioned wind turbines, the trade group WindEurope is collaborating with chemical groups to find uses for composite materials used in turbine blades.
Wind energy may be more sustainable, but those giant blades driving wind turbines don’t last forever.
Fortunately, a major association for the wind energy field might have found a way to make them more efficient to recycle.
WindEurope, which represents the European Union’s wind industry, announced last week that it would team with two chemical industry groups—Cefic (the European Chemical Industry Council) and EUCIA (the European Composites Industry Association)—to create new ways to reuse the materials in different contexts.
In the next five years, about 12,000 wind turbines will be decommissioned. The turbines use a composite material, which can be recycled into materials such as cement, along with a replacement for traditional coal.
There’s a lot of material to consider—the group notes that the wind-energy sector uses about 2.5 million tons of composite materials.
“The first generation of wind turbines are now starting to come to the end of their operational life and be replaced by modern turbines,” said WindEurope CEO Giles Dickson in a news release. “Recycling the old blades is a top priority for us, and teaming up with the chemical and compositors industries will enable us to do it the most effective way.”
Cefic Director General Marco Mensink added that his group aims to help find new ways to use such materials in contexts that can have the biggest impact. “Innovation is born from collaboration, and we look forward to working together to advance wind turbine blade recycling,” he said.
WindEurope isn’t the only group focused on ensuring decommissioned turbines are properly recycled. The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) notes on its website that many wind farms get “repowered” with newer generations of wind turbines, and it emphasizes the significant value in wind turbines that are being recycled. While a small number of wind farms have been decommissioned, the retired equipment generally doesn’t sit around for long.
“It’s in a company’s best interest to not let valuable machines sit abandoned—they can maximize value by reusing materials,” AWEA says. “There are a number of ways to reuse the towers, foundations, and electrical cables. The steel, copper, and other metal components that make up the bulk of a turbine have salvage value and can be recycled.”