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How the UK can become a leader in wind turbine recycling

By Power Engineering International

Although wind is expected to play a key role in environmental sustainability through the decarbonization of power generation, adopting a circular approach across the entire value chain is vital.

With over 14,000 wind turbine blades expected to reach the end of their usable life within the next three years in the UK, recycling them will help the sector reduce its carbon footprint, according to the Wind Turbine Blade Recycling P2 report released by the Energy Transition Alliance.

The report states that cross-sector collaboration is needed in the UK to maximize wind turbine recycling and to make the region a global leader in a circular economy within the wind turbine sector.

The report, compiled using funds from the Net Zero Technology Centre and Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult, provides five recommendations the UK can adopt to improve the application of circular economy approaches within the wind turbine industry:

  1. Encouraging the use of materials that will be more compatible with a circular economy
  2. Developing processes which are cheaper and easier for recovery of materials during decommissioning
  3. Creating industrial-scale pilot projects to validate new methods and technologies for recycling
  4. Establishing a supply chain market for recycled material
  5. Educating the marketplace on opportunities for recycled materials from wind turbines.

Pamela Lomoro, Project Manager at the Net Zero Technology Centre said: “…the early generation of turbines are now being decommissioned and replaced with higher capacity models.

“The report illustrates what can be achieved in this industry if we can develop a collaborative approach that involves all sectors striving for sustainable decommissioning. With input from manufacturers through to end-users, we can reinvent how wind turbines are recycled.”

By adopting a cross-sector approach, the UK could recover up to 50,000 tonnes of composite material and recycle it for a variety of re-use applications by 2023.

The report states that collaboration amongst players in various industries could help the UK better understand the circular economy – a business approach vital for net-zero goals to be achieved and maintained. This in turn would avoid land degradation as a result of disposals in landfills.

The report urges the wind turbine sector to replicate its success achieved in previous years in optimizing installations, operations, and maintenance, within the circular economy.

As more and more wind turbines will need to be retired, recycled, or repowered, investing in a circular economy will help the UK create thousands of green jobs. A previous report by the Energy Transition Alliance identified an extra 20,000 jobs could be created with a circular economy for wind turbines.

Although the majority of wind turbines on the market are claimed to be 90% recyclable, the blades which are made from composite layers of stiff carbon or glass fibers in a resin matrix, are notoriously challenging to reclaim and reprocess.

Lorna Bennet, Project Lead at ORE Catapult, adds: “The best solution is likely to come from a multi-sector approach because of the economies of scale required to create a market for recycled material. Likewise, the drive for better practices in recycling techniques and to develop better research and technologies will come from innovation and cross-industry collaboration.

“WindEurope estimates that 10% of all composite material waste will come from the wind sector over the coming years. It is a massive opportunity and with the right funding, policy direction, and appetite, we could see the UK become a global leader in circular economy solutions.”

Read the report.

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