The problem of what to do with wind turbine blades at the end of their useful life has grabbed plenty of headlines over the past year. Although the handwringing may not match reality (for example 10 times as many plastic plates and cups end up in U.S. landfills compared to turbine blades), industry and research institutions have forged ahead to find innovative technology solutions for the limited impacts blades do have on the U.S. waste stream. Potential avenues include repurposing blades as utility towers or breaking them down into pellets that can be used as building materials.
Now, turbine manufacturer Vestas has partnered with other groups and developed a possible breakthrough. The company, along with Olin, the Danish Technological Institute (DTI), and Aarhus University has created an initiative called CETEC (Circular Economy for Thermosets Epoxy Composites). Using a two-step chemical process, CETEC provides a way to break down blades into their virgin components, which can then be used to make brand new blades, forming a circular manufacturing process and eliminating the need for blades to be landfilled.
“As global commitments to a net-zero future increase, it’s absolutely crucial to ensure the wind industry can scale sustainably, which includes Vestas fulfilling our ambition to produce zero-waste turbines by 2040, said Allan Korsgaard Poulsen, Head of Sustainability and Advanced Materials, Vestas Innovation and Concepts. “Leveraging this new technological breakthrough in chemcycling epoxy resin, the CETEC project will be a significant milestone in Vestas’ journey towards achieving this goal, and in enabling a future where landfill is no longer required in blade decommissioning.”
Wind turbines are already 85 to 90 percent recyclable, and the blades pose the final gap. The challenge of how to handle blades remains a technological question rather than an environmental one—blades constitute an infinitesimal portion of our solid waste stream, and they’re inert materials that don’t break down in harmful ways then they do end up in a landfill. Certainly, a fix is on the horizon. Because good stewardship is a core value for the U.S. wind industry, lots of attention has been focused on solving this last piece of the puzzle, and this latest development is another sign a solution is in sight.