In the run up to the UK's biggest renewable energy event of the year Global Offshore Wind 2023, Sara Nassehi Nejad, Lead Sustainability Specialist at Event Partner Vestas, explores their innovative solution to overcome one of the biggest challenges faced by the industry to date, how to make wind turbine blades recyclable.
In the wind industry, turbine blades are subjected to extreme requirements. They must be lightweight, durable, and able to withstand harsh weather conditions, including hurricanes and tornadoes. For several decades, epoxy-based resin has been the standard material used in the manufacturing of wind turbine blades.
However, recycling turbine blades has been a significant challenge due to the unique chemical properties of epoxy resin. It was believed to be impossible to break down the resin into reusable components. This led to various attempts by technology leaders to replace or modify epoxy resin with alternatives that are easier to treat.
“Until now, the wind industry has believed that turbine blade material calls for a new approach to design and manufacture to be either recyclable, or beyond this, circular, at end of life. Going forward, we can now view old epoxy-based blades as a source of raw material. Once this new technology is implemented at scale, legacy blade material currently sitting in landfill, as well as blade material in active windfarms, can be disassembled, and re-used. This signals a new era for the wind industry, and accelerates our journey towards achieving circularity,” says Lisa Ekstrand, Vice President and Head of Sustainability at Vestas.
The end of the operational life of wind turbine blades is becoming more prevalent, especially in mature wind energy markets. WindEurope estimates that by 2025, approximately 25,000 tonnes of blades will reach the end of their operational life annually. Recognizing this growing issue, Vestas and its partners have made a groundbreaking discovery that directly addresses the challenge of epoxy resin. They have found an efficient way to recycle all epoxy-based blades in a circular way. Which means that this breakthrough allows old epoxy-based blades to be considered a valuable source of raw material.
“The newly discovered chemical process shows that epoxy-based turbine blades, whether in operation or sitting in landfill, can be turned into a source of raw material to potentially build new turbine blades. As the chemical process relies on widely available chemicals, it is highly compatible for industrialisation, and can therefore be scaled up quickly. This innovation would not have been possible without the ground-breaking CETEC collaboration between industry and academia enabling our progress until this point,” says Mie Elholm Birkbak, Specialist, Innovation & Concepts at Vestas.
Once the new technology is implemented on a large scale, both legacy blade material currently occupying landfills and blade material in active wind farms can be disassembled and repurposed. This marks the beginning of a circular economy for all existing and future epoxy-based turbine blades.
To scale up this innovative solution, Vestas is embarking on a two-year pilot project in collaboration with Olin and Stena Recycling. The goal of this project is to develop a circular value chain and create a fully commercial offering for their customers. This pilot project will mark the start of a circular economy for epoxy-based turbine blades, bringing us closer to achieving sustainability goals in the wind industry.
Learn more about Vestas Sustainability work and their Circularity solution here: https://www.vestas.com/en/sustainability/blade-circularity
We also invite you to learn more about Vestas by visiting our website at www.vestas.com.
Vestas, the global partner in the energy industry for sustainable energy solutions, has achieved a breakthrough in collaboration with its partners in the CETEC project. Together, they have developed a newchemical process that makes epoxy-based turbine blades circular, without the need for changing the design or composition of blade material. Through a newly established value chain, supported by Nordic recycling leader Stena Recycling and global epoxy manufacturer Olin, Vestas will now focus on scaling up the novel chemical disassembly process into a commercial solution.This circular solution has the potential to revolutionize the wind industry.