Utility Dive, Published June 15, 2021; Iulia Gheorghiu
- GE’s renewable energy arm on Thursday announced two partnerships in Europe to advance wind turbine recycling and reuse as part of broader efforts to contribute to the European Commission’s circular economy action plan, adopted in March 2020.
- The manufacturer announced agreements with neowa to shred turbine blades in Germany into pellets for cement production, and with LafargeHolcim, to explore short- and long-term solutions to reuse blade materials from decommissioned turbines.
- While most components of wind turbines are fully recyclable, wind blades, which include glass fibers, have largely been buried in landfills as a cheaper alternative to processing and repurposing the materials, according to Paul Veers, chief engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) National Wind Technology Center.
The European Union’s circular economy action plan has prompted many developers, including GE, to seek solutions for the reuse of materials found in wind turbine blades.
Similar efforts are happening around the world. In the U.S., NREL has ongoing research into end-to-end recycling for wind turbine parts, focused in part on technology that would process wind turbine blades.
“Europe may be ahead of the U.S. in requiring recyclable systems, but all will soon follow. No one wants a ‘green’ technology that fills landfills, and it simply is not necessary if the new technology is brought to market,” Veers said.
While the recent announcements are focused on onshore wind turbines in Europe, GE Renewable Energy announced in December a multi-year agreement with Veolia North America for the first U.S. wind turbine blade recycling program of its kind.
Most of a turbine can be recycled, but the industry is grappling with the reuse of turbine blades.
“One concern is that the market value of the recycled material [for blades] may not be much greater (or even less) than the cost of recycling,” Aubryn Cooperman, engineering analyst at NREL, said in an e-mail.
While specific recycling process costs tend to be confidential, Cooperman has seen a range from $100 to $1,000 per ton of the shredded blade material.
“Transportation is also a significant cost, especially if the blades are being transported essentially intact,” Cooperman said. “Reducing the size of blades at the wind plant (by cutting them into pieces or chopping/grinding them on site) could reduce the expenses associated with moving oversize loads,” Cooperman added.
GE’s multi-year agreement with neowa to dismantle and remove decommissioned turbines will recycle up to 90% of the turbines. Additionally, neowa’s proprietary process to shred turbine blades will create a feedstock for cement production.
“Nearly 10 GW of aging turbines in Europe will be repowered or decommissioned by 2025,” GE Renewable Energy president and CEO Jérôme Pécresse wrote in a LinkedIn post.
LafargeHolcim’s research and development team is exploring the creation of sustainable construction materials from turbine blades. Its Geocycle brand also offers co-processing solutions for wind blades in Germany. Previous to this announcement, GE and LafargeHolcim collaborated on developing wind turbine towers by 3D-printing concrete prototypes that can be created ten times faster than the traditional towers.
Separately, LM Wind Power, a GE subsidiary, is working within a consortium in Denmark made up of universities and the wind and recycling industries, to commercialize viable recycling solutions for the full turbines.
“This is a truly exciting next step in our journey to introduce new circular lifecycle improvements for the wind industry,” Pécresse said in a press statement.