The wind energy industry drives the recycling of wind turbine blades

Currently, around 85 to 90% of the total mass of wind turbines can be recycled. But wind turbine blades represent a specific challenge. Manufactured with complex composite materials to allow for lighter and more durable blades, they require specific processes for recycling.

WindEurope, the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) and the European Composites Industry Association (EuCIA) present their recommendations for recycling wind turbine blades in their new report “Accelerating the circularity of wind turbine blades”.

“Investing in renewable energy production and circular solutions should be one of the main drivers of the post-COVID-19 economic recovery,” explains Cefic Director General Marco Mensink. “I am very proud of the partnership we have created with the wind energy supply chain to come up with an effective solution for recycling wind blades. This shows that alliances between industries and value chains are a very powerful tool to accelerate innovation and expand cutting-edge technologies ”.

WindEurope CEO Giles Dickson said: “The first generation of wind turbines is now beginning to reach the end of its operational life. Many of them will be replaced by modern and more efficient turbines. We estimate that 14,000 wind turbine blades will be dismantled in Europe by 2023. The recycling of these old blades is a priority for us, as we are committed to the principles of a circular economy. Our collaboration with Cefic and EuCIA is key to expand recycling technologies and the necessary value chains ”.

“We are committed to supporting the composites industry in the search for reliable recycling technologies,” adds Roberto Frassine, President of EuCIA. “Our collaboration with WindEurope and Cefic is a great example of how we can move towards establishing solutions that are sustainable and economically viable. EuCIA has been working hard to better estimate the amount of end-of-life residues of compounds in Europe. Through WindEurope we were able to validate our findings for the wind markets, which will be the basis for other strategic programs and actions to promote the recycling of compounds ”.

The key findings of the report are:

There are several existing technologies for recycling wind turbine blades, but these solutions are not yet available on an industrial scale and economically competitive.
Today, the main technology for recycling composite waste is through cement co-processing. WindEurope, Cefic and EuCIA strongly support increasing and improving the recycling of composite waste through the development of alternative recycling technologies. This requires more funding for research and innovation.
At the same time, existing treatment routes, such as cement co-processing, must be deployed more widely to cope with increasing waste streams.
The best strategy for wind turbine blades is one that combines design, testing, maintenance, upgrades, and proper recycling technology to ensure that the maximum value of the material is recovered throughout its lifetime. This requires a better understanding of the environmental impacts associated with the choice of materials during design and with the different methods of treating end-of-life waste.
Finally, compound recycling is a cross-sector challenge. Active engagement from all sectors and authorities using compounds is required to develop profitable solutions and strong European value chains.