What do you do with 36,000 old blades?

WindEurope has formed a new cross-sector platform with the continent's chemical and composite materials industries to advance new ways to recycle turbine blades.

As more turbines and blades reach the end of their life, a broad range of recycling options becomes more important, WindEurope explained (pic credit: MHI Vestas)
As more turbines and blades reach the end of their life, a broad range of recycling options becomes more important, WindEurope explained (pic credit: MHI Vestas)

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The industry association expects 12,000 turbines will be decommissioned in Europe in the next five years, increasing the need for a broader range of recycling options.

Typically, composite materials used in turbine blades are recycled through cement co-processing.

However, alternative methods such as mechanical recycling, solvolysis (recycling based on chemical reactions) and pyrolysis (decomposition caused by high temperatures) are being developed, WindEurope explained.

It will explore these options with the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic), and the European Composites Industry Association (EUCIA).

"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.

"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," he added.

Currently, composite materials are recycled at commercial scale through cement co-processing.

In this, cement raw materials are partially replaced by the glass fibres and fillers from composites used in turbines, while the organic fraction replaces coal as a fuel.

WindEurope explained that this process is more environmentally friendly than traditional cement production.

If recycled composite materials make up 75% of the cement’s raw materials, a 16% reduction in CO2 output can be achieved, compared to production without composite materials being used, according to EUCIA figures.

Roberto Frassine, president of the composites industry group, added the collaboration could set a standard that could be replicated in other industries such as marine, and building and infrastructure.

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