Wind energy demands that landfills for wind turbine blades be eliminated

WindEurope, the European wind power sector employers’ association, and the Wind Business Association (AEE), launched today, within the framework of the VI Wind Congress, a call for the elimination of dismantled wind turbine blades throughout Europe by 2025. The wind industry Europe is actively committed to reusing, recycling or recovering 100% of dismantled shovels. This comes after several leading companies in the sector announced ambitious plans for recycling and recovery of blades. A ban on landfills would further accelerate the development of sustainable recycling technologies for composite materials.

Within the framework of the AEE Wind Congress, which is being held today and tomorrow, Giles Dickson, CEO of WindEurope, and Juan Virgilio Márquez, CEO of AEE, have called on the European Commission to propose the ban throughout Europe of the dumping of wind turbine blades out of service. The ban should come into effect in 2025 and also apply to other large components made up of the nacelles of modern wind turbines.

With this request, the European wind industry is actively committed to reuse, recycle or recover 100% of the dismantled blades. At the same time, the wind sector is committed not to send dismantled blades from Europe to other countries outside of Europe for dumping.

“Wind energy is a green technology. Sustainability is part of our DNA. That is why we are constantly striving to further reduce our impact on the environment. Banning the dumping of wind turbine blades will help accelerate the development of recycling technologies sustainable. Austria, Finland, Germany and the Netherlands already have a landfill ban. But we ask the European Commission to propose a harmonized European approach, “said Giles Dickson, CEO of WindEurope.

“As an industry we are determined to be at the forefront of sustainability and the circular economy. Wind turbine blades are non-toxic and safe for landfills, but we believe that landfill is a waste of valuable resources. Our commitment to ending it dumping wind turbine blades by 2025 will help make sustainable recycling methods commercially viable. ” Spain is the second European market for wind energy. “The Spanish wind sector joins this initiative proposed by WindEurope. From Spain we send a signal that the industry is committed to redoubling its efforts towards 100% reusable wind turbine blades, “said Juan Virgilio Márquez, CEO of AEE.

“In Europe and, particularly in Spain, we are living a stage of ambitious objectives, marked by the installation of new wind power. The wind industry, throughout its value chain, has plenty of response capacity. Wind power is already the backbone of our electricity mix. Currently, it is the first technology of the mix in Spain by installed power with more than 27.4 GW installed, and during the last 12 months it has also been the first technology in generation, with more than 60 TWh. This first place in power and generation will be maintained over the next decade until reaching 50.3 GW in 2030 according to our PNIEC ”, highlighted Juan Diego Díaz, president of AEE at the inauguration of the Spanish Wind Power Congress.

“Our sector is clearly one of those that can be pillars for economic reconstruction and a change in the economic model in Europe. The industrial synergies with other sectors are clear and for the future, with both industrial and technological symbiosis, with the importance that the industry has to guarantee future resilience for our country’s economic model. But for this machinery to work, it is necessary to take care of our value chain and bet on added value. We must be the cradle of clean energy innovation of the future and become the cornerstone of development. Spain has always been a pioneer in this and undoubtedly in wind energy, a global benchmark in exchange technology. The wind sector will always be based on rigor and proactivity to anticipate the regulatory, technical and economic challenges that we are going to see in the future with responsibility and decision, because the only way to predict and anticipate the future is to invent it ”, he has Juan Diego Díaz concluded in his speech.

The number of shovels recalled so far is low, but will increase in the coming years

In Europe’s more mature markets for wind power, the first turbines are reaching the end of their useful life. The number of blades that have been recalled so far remains low. But it will increase in the coming years.

WindEurope expects some 25,000 tonnes of blades to reach the end of their useful life annually between now and 2025. Germany and Spain will be the countries with the highest number of removed blades, followed by Denmark. Towards the end of the decade, Italy, France and Portugal will also start to dismantle blades significantly and the annual dismantling volume could double to 52,000 tonnes in 2030.

Governments can play a decisive role in promoting the recycling of wind turbine blades. It should increase the funding of R&D in the commercialization and expansion of the different blade recycling technologies. These include mechanical grinding, pyrolysis, microwave pyrolysis, high voltage impulse fragmentation, solvolysis, and fluidized bed. The EU should also fund R&D to encourage the development and use of new materials for circular blades.

“We are not alone in this. We have already started to develop inter-industry collaborations with other sectors working on recycling technologies for composite materials. Adequate legislation will help create viable recycling value chains and incentivize a market for recycled materials,” he says Giles Dickson.

As a next step, the wind industry will draw up a roadmap detailing the steps necessary to accelerate the recycling of wind turbine blades.

The standard lifespan of an onshore wind farm is around 20-25 years. 85-90% of the total mass of a wind turbine can already be recycled. Most components, such as steel, cement, copper wire, electronic components, and gears, have established recycling cycles. However, wind turbine blades are more difficult to recycle. They contain complex composite materials, a combination of reinforced fibers (usually glass or carbon fibers) and a polymer matrix. These composite materials increase the performance of wind turbines. They allow to obtain lighter and longer blades with optimized aerodynamics. But its configuration also poses recycling problems.

There are some technologies to recycle composite blade materials, and more and more companies are offering composite material recycling services, but these solutions are not yet mature enough, nor are they available on an industrial scale, nor are they cost competitive. Making these technologies commercially viable will require the commitment of policy makers, other users of composite materials, and the recycling industry.

For more information, you can consult the position document of WindEurope

How to build a circular economy for wind turbine blades through policy and partnerships’.