The Sustainability of Wind Energy Systems: The Composite Blades Loophole

The sustainability of wind energy systems would be greatly enhanced by recycling wind turbine blades once a wind turbine has been decommissioned, but very little is being done to push this idea within the industry. 

(Scrivener Publishing) – Renewable energy systems, like wind energy, have a life cycle, which includes decommissioning, once a wind turbine has gone through its life cycle. A key component of a wind turbine’s life cycle, the decommissioning phase, has only recently been addressed by research and policy on wind energy projects’ sustainability. Although end-of-life composite blades constitute minimal waste as compared to annual industrial composite waste, to date no universally accepted solution or standard commercial procedure has been found for the problem of wind blade disposal. Included is an examination of the US wind blade supply chain as it regards the end-of-life management of composite waste. Based on 40 in-depth, semi-structured interviews with North American and European wind energy experts, the author provides an overview of wind blade manufacturing plants, composite suppliers to the wind energy sector, and blade-design academic research and testing in the US. Regarding the recycling of composite materials, original data is offered here on what legislation and current practice tells us about end-of-life blades. Data shows that all but a few blade manufacturers and/or Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) have been involved in research or experimental projects regarding composite wind blade recycling over the last 13–14 years. All the projects since 2000–2001 are of European origin. Interview data also shows that important steps have recently been taken in the US as a market is being established for composite recycling across the country and as the composite recycling infrastructure is continually being improved.

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