WindEurope, the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) and the European Composites Industry Association (EuCIA) have presented their recommendations for the recycling of wind turbine blades in their new report.
Wind turbines from the first generation back in the 1990s are reaching the end of their life expectancy and around two gigawatts worth of turbines are expected to be refitted between 2019 and 2020.
Up to 85 to 90% of wind turbines’ total mass can be recycled, but turbine blades represent a significant challenge. Made from composite materials to allow for lighter and more durable blades, they require specific processes for recycling.
Currently, the most popular process is through something called cement co-processing, where the mineral components are reused in the cement, and the organic fraction replaces coal as a fuel. Through that process, the CO2 output of the cement manufacturing process can be significantly reduced (up to 16 % reduction is possible if composites represent 75 % of cement raw materials). Cement coprocessing is commercially available for processing large volumes of waste albeit not in all locations.
Besides cement co-processing, alternative technologies like mechanical recycling, solvolysis and pyrolysis are being developed, ultimately providing the industry with additional solutions for end-of-life.
Investing in renewable energy production and circular solutions should be one of the key drivers of the post-COVID-19 economic recovery. I am very proud of the partnership we have built with the wind energy supply chain to come up with an effective solution to recycling wind blades. This shows that cross-industry and value chain alliances are a very powerful tool for speeding up innovation and scaling up cutting edge technologies.Marco Mensink, Cefic director general.
The report, which can be downloaded here strongly supports increasing and improving composite waste recycling through the development of alternative technologies and are calling on the EU to prioritise R&I funding to diversify and scale up recycling technologies and to develop new, high-performance materials for blades with enhanced circularity as part of the next R&I framework programme called Horizon Europe.