Green energy: wind power’s recycling dilemma

wind farm at sunrise

Green energy: wind power’s recycling dilemma

Wind power is a fantastic source of energy, and one of the fastest-growing in the world. Wind turbines are not only sustainable and a clean energy source, but they’re also cost-effective. But when they reach their life-span, what happens to them?

Wind turbine blades have a 25-year life-span. So when their time is up, the final destination is a “wind turbine graveyard”. Essentially a landfill, where they are buried stacked on top of each other. Although the power they produce is very environmentally friendly, their disposal is unfortunately not.

Wind turbine blades built in the 1990s were made from glass fibre whereas newer ones are made from carbon fibre which is suitably light and strong. Unfortunately, both materials are incredibly difficult to recycle.

wind turbines at sunset

So is a wind turbine graveyard the only answer?

Not really! Although the materials are hard to recycle, there are ways to reuse the materials.

Global Fiberglass Solutions in Bellevue, Washington have come up with a solution for repurposing the fibreglass compound: small pellets that can be turned into waterproof boards to be used in construction or injectable plastics.

A second solution is pyrolysis, where the blades are chopped up. They are then put in a 450-700C temperature oven with an inert atmosphere in order to break down the composite fibres. These can then be used for paints, glues, and concrete.

The issue with this process, however, is that it uses a lot of energy to separate the fibres and therefore restricting how environmentally useful the solution actually is.

In the Netherlands, old turbine blades have been put to new use as a slide tower, tunnels, ramps and slides on playgrounds in Rotterdam and Terneuzen, bus stops in Almere and seats by the Erasmusbrug bridge. In Ålborg, Denmark, they are awaiting planning permission to turn blades into a bridge.

wind turbines above the clouds

What is the future of wind turbines?

While there is still research into making the blades recyclable, GE has developed the Haliade-X, the world’s largest wind turbine with blades spanning 107 metres long and producing 12 megawatts of energy, 45% more than past offshore turbines. The advantage of these super turbines is that as they are higher in the sky and can access faster wind speeds, thus producing more energy. This means there can be fewer turbines to produce the same amount of electricity.

Although there could be less of them around, the same issue still remains: how to recycle them. Due to the larger blades, more fibreglass needs to be produced, in bigger factories, resulting in higher energy use.

Is wind power the only solution?

Solar power is another source of renewable energy that is sustainable, completely endless and non-polluting. Solar panels need to be replaced every 40 years, and these are made from glass, plastic and aluminium. Highly recyclable, meaning that disposing of them after end-of-life is very simple.

At ESS Utility, we provide green energy savings for businesses seeking to cut costs on their energy bills and remain compliant with the demands of becoming more sustainable. This includes the installation of solar panels, where your business will reduce its reliance on the grid, lowering yours and your consumers’ carbon footprint. With solar PVs, direct sunlight is not necessary, which is great when living in the UK; diffused light on cloudy days also produce power!

Get in touch now for a free consultation and find out how we can help you.

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