According to the US turbine manufacturer, the multi-year agreement signed with Veolia North America (VNA) offers a climate solution for heavy industry that can be deployed quickly and at scale.
When it comes to tackling climate change, the cement industry is a difficult-to-decarbonise sector. Producing cement from calcium carbonate not only requires huge amounts of energy, it also releases carbon dioxide as an unavoidable consequence of the chemical reaction.
Under the GE-Veolia deal, the waste firm will process GE’s onshore blades for use as a raw material for cement, utilising a cement kiln co-processing technology. Currently, 85-90% of the content of dismantled turbines can be recycled, including the towers, foundations, generators and gearboxes. Most of these components comprise concrete, steel and cast iron which are easy to recycle, but blades are more problematic.
As a part of the GE-Veolia agreement, blades that have been removed from its turbines when replaced or repowered will be shredded at VNA’s processing facility in Missouri and then used as a replacement for coal, sand and clay at cement manufacturing facilities across the US.
On average, nearly 90% of the blade material, by weight, will be reused as a repurposed engineered material for cement production, according to GE. More than 65% of the blade weight will replace raw materials that would otherwise be added to the kiln to create the cement, and about 28% of the blade weight also provides energy for the chemical reaction that takes place in the kiln.
According to an environmental impact analysis conducted by consultants Quantis US, the net effect of blade recycling through cement kiln co-processing is environmentally beneficial. Quantis found that traditional cement manufacturing with blade recycling enabled a 27% net reduction in CO2 emissions from cement production and a 13% net reduced water consumption.
In addition, a single wind turbine blade weighing roughly 7 tonnes recycled through this process enables the cement kiln to avoid consuming nearly 5 tonnes of coal, around 2.5 tonnes of silica, almost 2 tonnes of limestone, and nearly a tonne of additional mineral-based raw materials.
Bob Cappadona, VNA’s chief operating officer for its environmental solutions and services division, said the agreement would result in greener cement that could be used for a variety of products.
In a statement, he said: “Last summer we completed a trial using a GE blade, and we were very happy with the results. This fall we have processed more than 100 blades so far, and our customers have been very pleased with the product.”