RECYCLING

We are nvaliant

We love tackling challenges. While around 90% of wind turbines total mass can be recycled, turbine blades require a specific recycling strategy.

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End-of-service lives of wind turbines constitute a major issue.

Nowadays, the first generation of wind turbines are starting to come to the end of their operational life. Many of them will be replaced by more powerful, more efficient and technologically more evolved models. Disposing them in an environmentally friendly way is a growing problem.

Blades recycling: Wind industry’s top challenge

Although the component materials —such as steel, copper wire, electronics, and gearing—can be recycled or reused and are treated accordingly, the rotor blades in particular represent a specific challenge, due to the complex nature of materials used to manufacture them, even though they consist only the 2% to 3% of the mass of an entire wind turbine.

Rotor blades are made with use of glass fibre or carbon fibre. These composite materials have the advantage of making rotor blades lighter and more robust, boosting the performance of wind energy, but they are proving complicated to recycle. The mixed nature of the blade material makes separating the plastics from the glass fibres to recycle into a workable fiberglass material difficult—and the strength needed for the blades means they are also physically challenging to break apart.

Elegant Solutions

The blades were made to be super durable, and very long. This is fine when they are attached to a giant wind turbine, but when it comes to the disposal this tends to cause some issues. They cannot be easily crushed or repurposed, and given their size, they are often tricky to easily transport. For this reason, most tend to be cut up into pieces ready for disposal. Currently the main way is to landfill or incinerate end-of-life wind turbine blades. Until recently, burying the large blades has been an affordable solution – although the researchers are aiming for end-to-end recycling of the parts. This is clearly counterproductive to the image that the wind turbine industry is trying to project.

In some cases, turbines that have been taken out of service are sold in other countries where they produce electricity a couple of years longer, a process referred to as ‘repowering’. Second hand turbines that are reconditioned are in demand, however, this ‘second life’ solution becomes increasingly complicated and, in some cases, unprofitable.

Another innovative approach is turning smaller blade parts into benches, or using them for bus stop shelter construction. It is also possible to reuse major parts of blades to produce smaller blades for smaller turbines. But the blades are exposed to harsh conditions like hail, snow, salinity, humidity, extreme temperature and lightning during the 20 year lifespan of a wind turbine, as an outcome the quality of the fibres decreases and it might not be possible to reuse them in new structural components.

An innovative solution has also been developed to recycle blades made from glass fibre. They are crushed and mixed with other components and become an excellent solid fuel for the cement industry, replacing traditional fossil fuels, such as fuel oil as well as using the glass fibre residues within the cement matrix.

Taking blade recycling to the next level

With wind turbines getting bigger and more common, the issue of dealing with older blades may need to be dealt with sooner rather than later. The best strategy for wind turbine blades is one that combines design, testing, maintenance, upgrades, and the appropriate recycling technology to ensure the maximum value of the material is retrieved throughout its lifetime. This requires a better understanding of the environmental impacts associated with the different waste treatment methods at end-of-life.

Today 2.5 million tonnes of composite material are in use in the wind energy sector and 15,000 wind turbine blades will be decommissioned in the next five years. Dealing with this significant volume requires technological solutions for the waste management of the relevant material.

The wind industry is committed to sustainable waste management in line with the multi-step approach put forward by the EU and continues to seek solutions to efficiently replace and dispose of the models and finding ways of giving them a fresh lease of life is therefore a major challenge. 

Innovative recycling helps recover a multitude of materials. Most components of wind turbines are made of reinforced concrete, steel and metals, all of which can be  recycled!

Intelligent recycling of blades is our challenge

Often our message is that renewable energy, like any new disruptive technologies, comes with tremendous opportunities as well as challenges. As the amount of blades being retired begins to increase in the Europe, at nvisionist we work toward an active solution to this problem. We are involved in research projects and applications uses for retired turbine blades focused on finding innovative recycling methods and reuse of GFRP. We are the right partner to assist the operator into finding the appropriate recycling technology to ensure the maximum value of the materials retrieved. We have an excellent understanding of the environmental impacts associated with the choice of materials and the different waste treatment methods at end-of-life.

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If you are interested in working with our research team and to pick the most appropriate
recycling solution for your needs, feel free to contact us.

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We are happy to
inform you that
nvisionist will present
the innovative
nvbird®️ system
as an exhibitor

Beyond 4
Stand 13 B20
14-16 October 2021

Electric City –
Wind Europe
Stand C2-B7,
Denmark
23-25 November 2021