Wind turbines generate electricity without using fossil fuels or producing particulate matter pollution, but they do create waste: Though they can last as long as 25 years, turbine blades cannot be recycled, piling up in landfills at the end of their life. Now the Spain-based renewable energy company Siemens Gamesa says it has finally designed a recyclable wind turbine blade.
Wind turbine blades are mostly made with fiberglass or carbon fiber heated together with resin to combine into a material that is light and yet still strong enough to withstand intense storms. Consequently, it’s difficult to recycle. At the end of their working life, most blades are buried underground or burned. According to Siemens Gamesa, the company’s latest innovation, called the RecyclableBlade, is made with a new type of resin that can be “efficiently separate[d]” from the other components of the blade at the end of its use. Those materials can then be reused.
The recyclable wind turbine blades are ready for offshore commercial use. The first six, which come in at 81 meters long, have been produced at the company’s blade factory in Aalborg, Denmark. They’re set to be installed at the Kaskasi offshore wind power plant in Germany; Siemens Gamesa is working with German energy company RWE on the project, which is expected to start producing energy in 2022.
The company is also working with German renewable energy operator WPD to install the recyclable blades at one of its future offshore wind plants, and with EDF Renewables, a San Diego-based sustainable energy company, to deploy more on future projects. Siemens Gamesa’s recyclable blades are a step toward the company’s goal of making its wind turbines fully recyclable by 2040.
Siemens Gamesa calls its RecyclableBlade “the world’s first wind turbine blade that can be recycled at the end of its lifecycle,” and a “milestone” for the wind industry. But other companies are also working to keep turbine blades from filling landfills. In May 2021, wind turbine maker Vestas said it had a new technology to recycle blades (that company also has a goal to make zero-waste wind turbines by 2040). Startups like Global Fiberglass Solutions can press blades into fiber boards for flooring and walls.
Making blade recycling cost efficient can still be a hurdle, but it’s a problem that industry players are racing to figure out as early wind farms age; wind energy trade association WindEurope anticipates that around 25,000 tonnes of blades will reach the end of their operational life annually by 2025.