- GE Renewable Energy announced Tuesday a multi-year agreement with Veolia North America for the first U.S. wind turbine blade recycling program of its kind.
- The majority of blades from onshore turbines that GE changes out during repowering efforts will be shredded and used to replace raw materials for cement manufacturing, creating a “circular economy for composite materials,” Anne McEntee, CEO of GE Renewable Energy’s Digital Services, said in a statement. In Europe, such recycling processes have grown to commercial scale, and GE plans to deploy the program at scale quickly.
- The process will make wind turbines fully recyclable, while reducing carbon dioxide emissions from cement production by a net 27%, according to environmental impact analysis by Quantis U.S. The reprocessed blade has a net-positive environmental impact by replacing coal or other raw materials in the cement production process, according to GE.
Veolia would process the blades with a cement kiln co-processing technology for use as a raw material, creating “greener cement,” according to Bob Cappadona, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for Veolia North America’s Environmental Solutions and Services. The company has supplied other repurposed engineered materials for the cement industry, as a replacement for coal, sand and clay.
Almost 90% of the blade material, primarily fiberglass, will be repurposed for cement production, shredded at Veolia’s processing facility in Missouri and used at manufacturing facilities across the country.
“Last summer we completed a trial using a GE blade, and we were very happy with the results. This fall we have processed more than 100 blades so far, and our customers have been very pleased with the product,” Cappadona said in a statement.
As wind turbines age, the industry continues to seek solutions to efficiently replace and dispose of the models. The same number of turbines replacing the aging models will have a “higher output,” Matteo Bellucci, advanced manufacturing technology leader at GE Renewable Energy, previously said.
While most of the turbine could be recycled, burying the large blades has been an affordable solution, although the wind industry and researchers are aiming for end-to-end recycling of the parts.
“Right now it’s very cheap to just put [blades] in a landfill, but I think we don’t want to see that as the end product,” Paul Veers, chief engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) National Wind Technology Center, said this summer.
At the time, the NREL was conducting research on a type of resin that could be recovered from the blade rather than buried, exploring the possibility of a circular economy with a fully or mostly recyclable wind turbine.