Wind Turbine Blade Recycling
In assessing the sustainability of wind power, most research overlooks the environmental impact of wind turbine blade disposal. Though recycling methods exist, there is still tremendous room for growth, not only in the recycling of existing wind turbine blades, but also the exploration of more easily recyclable designs for the future.
- What Materials Are Wind Turbine Blades Made From?
- What is the Average Lifespan of Wind Turbine Blades?
- How Are Wind Turbine Blades Recycled?
- What is Mechanical Recycling of Wind Turbine Blades?
- What is Thermal Recycling of Wind Turbine Blades?
- How Can Wind Turbine Recycling be Made More Sustainable?
What Materials Are Wind Turbine Blades Made From?
Wind turbine blades are made from composite materials, which simply means the joining of materials with different, complementary properties. In this case, the materials chosen for wind turbine blades are usually a glass or carbon-fiber reinforcement in a polymer matrix. This composite represents the best balance of the high-level of stiffness and low density necessary for optimal aerodynamic performance. Though inferior to carbon-fiber, a glass reinforcement may be preferred because it is less expensive. Return to Top
What is the Average Lifespan of Wind Turbine Blades?
The average lifespan of wind turbine blades is 20 to 25 years. The majority of wind turbines have yet to reach retirement age, but within the next two decades we can expect to see a mass turnover and, in turn, highly efficient and economical recycling methods. Return to Top
How Are Wind Turbine Blades Recycled?
Currently, there are two types of recycling methods employed for wind turbine blades - mechanical and thermal. Return to Top
What is Mechanical Recycling of Wind Turbine Blades?
Through the mechanical recycling method, wind turbine blades are cut up into scraps that become recyclates. These recyclates may be used in various applications, such as an alternative to wood fiber in particle board, or as a reinforcement in asphalt.
Mechanical recycling is a three-step process:
- At the wind turbine's location, the blades are removed and cut into smaller pieces before transport.
- At a separate location, a crushing hammer smashes the blades into much smaller pieces, while also serving to pound the resin out of the fibers.
- Finer pieces are separated from the coarser ones, as they have different applications.
Mechanical recycling of wind turbine blades produces two types of recyclates - fine and coarse. The finer recyclates have an especially low density which helps reduce the mass of its new construction, but the finer pieces also absorb more resin than others, which ultimately diminishes their performance. Though coarser recyclates absorb less resin than finer pieces, it is impossible to eliminate all of the resin residue. As a result, coarse recyclates have difficulty bonding with new materials. Return to Top
What is Thermal Recycling of Wind Turbine Blades?
Through the thermal recycling method, wind turbines are burned. The polymer within the turbine material is combustible and, when burned to 500 degrees Celsius, produces solid substances or liquid hydrocarbon products that can be turned into energy for the production of electricity. Leftover glass fibers may be used in glue, paints and concrete. Leftover carbon fibers may become part of new composite materials. Return to Top
How Can Wind Turbine Recycling be Made More Sustainable?
Though improving the recycling methods of existing wind turbine blades is important, what will prove more beneficial in the long run is shifting the focus to the exploration of new materials for wind turbines that have to be built (i.e., materials that are more easily recyclable). To that end, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries included Wind Simplicity among its finalists for the 2010 Design for Recycling Award. Wind Simplicity makes it wind turbine blades out of recyclable aluminum and steel that can be easily repaired, reconditioned and recycled.