Abandoned wind turbines

Wind Turbine Blades Trash Solution

Abandoned wind turbines

Wind turbines have a service life of about 20 to 25 years, after which they need to be replaced with newer and more efficient models. This means that there is a growing amount of old and obsolete wind turbines that need to be disposed of. While most of the components of a wind turbine, such as the tower, the gearbox, and the generator, are recyclable, the blades pose a significant challenge.

Most of the blades end up in landfills or incinerators, which is not only wasteful, but also harmful to the environment.

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What Makes Recycling Blades a Challenge?

Wind turbine blades are built to handle the constant forces of wind, extreme weather, and the relentless rotation needed to generate electricity. This durability comes from special materials called thermoset composite materials. However, these materials are also difficult to recycle, as they require high temperatures and special processes to separate the fibers from the resin.

Disposed Wind Turbine Blades
Disposed Wind Turbine Blades

Why Does Blade Recycling Matter?

Public Image

The disposal of wind turbine blades in landfills has raised concerns due to their negative image in the public eye. While wind energy is considered a clean and sustainable power source, the sight of abandoned turbine blades in landfills can lead to misconceptions and doubts about the environmental impact of the wind industry. Critics argue that this contradicts the industry’s green reputation and sustainability goals.

Circular Economy

A circular economy keeps materials in circulation as long as possible. Blade recycling embodies this idea, allowing for the recovery and reuse of valuable components without constant raw material demand.

How can wind turbine blades be recycled?

There are two main ways to recycle wind turbine blades: repurposing and pyrolysis.

Repurposing involves finding new uses for the old blades, such as building structures, furniture, art, or playground equipment. Pyrolysis involves heating the blades in the absence of oxygen, which breaks down the resin and releases the fibers, which can then be reused or remelted.

What are some examples of repurposing wind turbine blades?

Repurposing wind turbine blades is a creative and innovative way to give them a second life and avoid sending them to landfills. Repurposing can also create social and economic benefits, such as providing low-cost materials, enhancing public spaces, and promoting education and awareness. Here are some examples of how wind turbine blades have been repurposed around the world:

In the Netherlands, wind turbine blades have been used to create a playground, where children can climb, slide, and swing on the curved and colorful structures

playground equipment for children made from old wind turbine blades
Playground equipment for children made from old wind turbine blades

In the United States, wind turbine blades have been used to create electric transmission poles, which are stronger and more durable than wooden poles, and can withstand harsh weather conditions.

Electric Transmission pole made from wind turbine blade
Electric Transmission pole made from wind turbine blade

In Germany, wind turbine blades have been used to create furniture, such as tables, chairs, and shelves, which are stylish, functional, and eco-friendly.

Furniture made from wind turbine blade
Furniture made from wind turbine blade

in the Denmark, Old wind turbine blade is repurposed into Cycle stop

Cycle Stop made from Wind Turbine Blade
Cycle Stop made from Wind Turbine Blade

In the UK, demo bridge is constructed from wind turbine blade

Bridge constructed from wind turbine blade
Bridge constructed from wind turbine blade

However despite these creative Endeavors the sheer volume of retiring blades surpasses what repurposing alone can accommodate while repurposing is undeniably valuable it doope remains Limited in the face of the impending challenge to meet this growing issue it’s imperative to discover

How to use wind turbine blades in cement production?

One of the promising solutions for recycling wind turbine blades is to use them in cement production. Cement is one of the most important building materials in the world, as it is used to make concrete, which is used to build everything from houses and bridges to roads and skyscrapers. The main ingredient in cement is clinker, which is made from limestone, clay, and other minerals. These minerals are heated to very high temperatures in a kiln, which creates clinker that is then ground into a fine powder to be used for cement production.

The process of using wind turbine blades in cement production involves several steps:

  • First, wind turbine blades are cut into smaller segments, ensuring they can be conveniently transported on trucks. Once the blades are cut, they are transported to the processing facility. For economic efficiency, it is ideal if the cutting facility is situated in close proximity to the cement factory, thereby minimizing transportation costs.
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  • Following the cutting of the blades, they undergo shredding into smaller pieces, rendering them well suited for co-processing alongside other raw materials in the cement production process. Typically, the shredding process involves multiple stages to reduce the blades to a size suitable for further processing. Primary shredders are often used initially to break down the large blades into more manageable pieces. Subsequently, secondary shredders are employed to further refine the material into smaller fragments.
  • Once wind turbine blades are meticulously shredded into defined pieces, they undergo a second life as crucial components in cement production through a process known as co-processing. Co-processing is a technique that involves using alternative fuels and raw materials in the cement kiln, replacing some of the conventional fossil fuels and minerals. Co-processing can help reduce the energy consumption and emissions of the cement industry, as well as the amount of waste that goes to landfills.

Environmental benefits

Using wind turbine blades in cement production can have significant environmental benefits, both for the wind industry and the cement industry. According to a study by Quantis, recycling a single 7-ton blade can translate into the conservation of 5 tons of coal, 2.7 tons of silica, 1.9 tons of limestone, and about one ton of other mineral-based materials. This recycling approach not only addresses the challenge of blade waste, but also yields significant advantages for the concrete industry.

Recovered silica from turbine blades serves as a substitute for some of the sand and clay in cement production, offering a partial alternative to coal and potentially reducing emissions by up to 27%, as noted by GE. Moreover, the processing of shredded blades into pebble-sized pieces suitable for kiln fuel presents an opportunity to reduce reliance on fossil fuels in the firing of kilns, leading to a notable decrease in emissions throughout the process.

Using wind turbine blades in cement production is a start, but for a truly circular economy, we need something more. That’s why companies like Siemens Gamesa and Vestas are on a mission to fully recycle these blades.

How to fully recycle wind turbine blades?

Siemens Gamesa and Vestas are two of the leading wind turbine manufacturers that are developing innovative solutions to fully recycle wind turbine blades. They are aiming to create blades that can be recycled at the end of their life cycle, without compromising their performance and durability.

Siemens Gamesa has developed a groundbreaking solution called the RecyclableBlade, which is the first fully recyclable wind turbine blade designed for offshore use. It is built to maintain performance and durability while being recyclable at the end of its life cycle. The key innovation is a new recyclable epoxy resin that can be chemically broken down into high-quality materials, which can then be used to create new blades or other products. Siemens Gamesa has joined forces with RWE Renewables to deploy the first RecyclableBlades at the Kaskasi offshore wind power plant in Germany.

Vestas, another prominent wind turbine manufacturer, has also introduced a circularity solution to eliminate the need for landfilling turbine blades. They have developed a unique chemical process that can disassemble the epoxy resin components of old blades, turning them into raw materials suitable for crafting new blades. This innovation resulted from collaboration with Aarhus University, Danish Technological Institute, and Olin, as part of the CETEC project dedicated to exploring circular technology for turbine blades.

This breakthrough in recycling is a game-changer. It opens the door to recycling all retired blades, even those nearing the end of their lifespan. The big question now is: Is this commercially viable on a large scale? The industry is hard at work finding out. If successful, it could revolutionize the wind industry.

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