Solving wind turbine blade rejection problems

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About 85% of all wind turbine components can be recycled or reused, except for turbine blades. As a result, most turbine blades that end their life remain to accumulate in landfills around the world.

A brief history of wind energy

Historical records show that humans use the energy generated by the wind of 9th century BC in Persia, during which sails were used to grind grain and obtain water from nearby windy areas.

The first windmill developed to officially generate electricity occurred in 1887 when James Blyth of Scotland built a wind turbine with canvas turbines to power his home.

Since its introduction to the market, wind energy capacity has risen sharply and is expected to continue to grow as more countries around the world devote their resources to advancing this sustainable form of energy production.

Modern wind turbine blades typically contain fiberglass, balsa wood sheets, and epoxy thermosetting resin. Once all the blade materials are combined, the blade is placed in a preheated oven to get the proper shape. The heating of the wind turbine blade also provides the blade with the strength, smoothness, and flexibility needed to capture the wind and move the turbine.

Disposal of wind turbine blades

In addition to the blades, which are mainly made of fiberglass, up to 85% of wind turbine components can be recycled or reused. These parts are made of steel, copper wire, electronics and gear materials.

However, the materials used to create wind turbines are selected based on their ability to withstand hurricane winds. Although this durability is useful during wind turbine operation, it often prevents blades from breaking, recycling, or being repurposed when they reach the end of their life. Apart from the fact that the material itself is difficult to decompose, the size of the turbine blades, which in some cases can be as long as one football field at about 350 feet, also makes it difficult to dispose of these parts, because large platforms can in most cases transport only one blade.

Although most wind turbine blades can be used for up to 20-25 years, most blades are removed after 10, so they can be replaced with a larger and more powerful design. Because blades are often composed of materials that cannot be recycled or reused, tens of thousands of turbine blades fill landfills around the world.

In the United States, it is estimated that up to 8,000 wind turbine blades will be removed and sent to landfills in Lake Mills, Iowa, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Casper, Wyoming and several others. For example, in Casper, Wyoming, a total of 1,000 fiberglass turbine blades were disposed of between September 2020 and March 2021.

Why are thousands of wind turbine blades winding up in landfills

Video credit: Bloomberg Markets and Finance / YouTube.com

Leaders in turbine blade reuse

Several initiatives have been presented to address the problem of reuse and recycling of wind turbine blades to ensure the sustainability of this method of energy production.

Renewable parts

Renewable Parts Ltd. based in Scotland has more than 20 years of experience in maintaining wind turbines throughout the United Kingdom.

Renewable Parts has dedicated its Center for Reconstruction and Innovation to improving the sustainability of the wind industry while saving its time and money.

Specifically, this aspect of Renewable Parts recirculates many different turbine components, from hydromechanical to electrical and electronic parts, that can be installed in several different types of turbines.

Renewable parts estimate that approximately 8 tons of material is recycled at its Center for Reconstruction and Innovation each month. All used turbine materials converted to the new turbine have a history of complete original equipment manufacturer (OEM) services, as well as a five-year warranty on the main component and minor corrective parts.

Global Fiberglass Solutions method

Located in Bellevue, Washington, USA, Global Fiberglass Solutions (GFS) has transformed fiberglass composites derived from old turbine blades into small pellets called EcoPoly.

EcoPoly pellets can be used as injection plastic or waterproof boards for construction purposes.

Another way GFS has used its platform to transform the way repurpose used turbine blades is is through generating its new BladeTracker software. BladeTracker supports the management of turbine blade lifetimes and the conversion of these blades into EcoPoly pellets.

This patented GFS digital technology provides real-time data and specifications on each turbine blade, as well as their current location, to monitor the composite structure of each blade. The blades are monitored from the collection point and throughout the production process. BladeTracker software also provides all new products consisting of EcoPoly material with a production certificate, which identifies the blades used to manufacture the product. OEMs and wind farm operators receive a decommissioning certificate confirming the environmental sustainability of their projects.

References and further reading

New wind turbine blades could be recycled instead of landfill [Online]. Available from: https://www.sciachingamerican.com/article/new-wind-turbine-blades-could-be-recycled-instead-of-landfilled/

Wind turbine blades cannot be recycled, so they accumulate in landfills [Online]. Available from: https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2020-02-06/wind-turbine-blades

What happens to all the old wind turbines? [Online]. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/business-51325101

Global Fiberglass Solutions announces a solution for recycling wind turbine blades [Online]. Available from: https://www.compositesworld.com/news/jaguar-land-rover-composites-project-to-advance-ev-lightweighting-reduce-emissions

Renewal [Online]. Available at: https://www.renewable-parts.com/services/refurbishing

News and media [Online]. Available from: https://www.renewable-parts.com/news/post/how-the-wind-industry-can-be-more-sustainable-in-2021

Approved turbines used [Online]. Available at: https://www.renewable-parts.com/services/turbines

Are wind turbine blades recyclable on the horizon? [Online]. Available from: https://earth911.com/eco-tech/are-recyclable-wind-turbine-blades-on-the-horizon/

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