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LM Wind Power targets 'zero-waste' wind turbine blades by 2030

Local partnerships, optimised manufacturing processes and use of materials key to target, blade maker believes

LM Wind Power aims to end landfilling and incineration without energy recovery of such materials from its blade manufacturing by 2030
LM Wind Power aims to end landfilling and incineration without energy recovery of such materials from its blade manufacturing by 2030

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LM Wind Power aims to reuse, repurpose, recycle or recover all the excess materials from the manufacturing of its wind turbine blades by 2030.

It aims to end landfilling and incineration without energy recovery of such materials from its blade manufacturing by this date.

The GE-owned blade manufacturer will explore how it can deliver waste back to suppliers for recycling into new materials that will be supplied to the wind industry or to other sectors, according to LM Wind Power’s vice president of engineering and technology, Hanif Mashal.

It will also seek to build partnerships with local companies that can process the waste from its factories, the firm's project leader for product lifecycle, Katelyn Huber, told Windpower Monthly.

She added: “It’s about optimising the way we source materials by working with our suppliers, and designing our processes to use less material.”

LM Wind Power explained that about 75% of CO2 emissions in a blade’s lifecycle occur in the supply chain. Furthermore, about 20-25% of materials purchased by blade manufacturers do not go into the final product, it added.

Huber added that there is therefore a lot companies like LM Wind Power need to do to cut waste. “As a blade designer and manufacturer, we are very well-positioned to be able to have the highest impact in terms of preventing waste before it occurs,” she said.

The road to zero waste

To reach its target, LM Wind Power will look to optimise both the processes and materials — including process waste, personal protective equipment (PPE) and packaging — it uses in blade manufacturing.

Huber said key questions for the blade manufacturer to consider are whether some waste could go to other industries, and whether it could substitute some of the materials it uses with recycled materials.

For example, LM Wind Power is currently looking to transition from using balsa wood in the core of its blades to using recycled PET (polyethylene terepthalate) foam, which could come from water bottles, she noted. It is also keen to work with other sectors — such as the chemicals and composites industries — to see if it can find a market for its waste products.

Huber added that secondary markets for LM Wind Power’s waste products would need to be economically viable.

Other key challenges will be developing local partnerships for other companies to reuse, repurpose, recycle or recover the excess materials from blade manufacturing, Huber explained.

She added that it does not make sense — environmentally or economically — to ship waste across borders, so the company will need local partners for recycling.

The different rates at which it develops these relationships means LM will reach its "zero waste" target at different times in different locations, Huber explained.

These changes to how LM Wind Power sources materials and the processes it uses will likely incur costs. However, LM Wind Power’s zero-waste strategy should not mean a change to its commercial strategy — including pricing — in the long-term.

Huber explained that the manufacturer had already found cost savings by sourcing renewable energy and being more efficient with material consumption.

Sustainable future

LM Wind Power CEO Oliver Fontan noted that the wind industry’s focus is shifting from making the sector competitive, which it has largely achieved, to becoming greener in its owner manufacturing and other processes.

The likes of Vestas and Siemens Gamesa have set company targets for producing recyclable blades, industry body WindEurope has called for an end to the landfilling of blades, and various research consortiums are also exploring the potential for recyclable blades.

While LM Wind Power has not set a target for making its blades fully recyclable, it is part of the DecomBlades project, which is aiming to recycle decommissioned blades, and the Zebra project, which is aiming to make the next generation of blades can be more easily recycled.

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