Siemens Gamesa Recycled Wind Turbine Blades Now in Use
The world is in the midst of a major green transition. We are moving from an extractive economy to a renewable, sustainable one, but it is important not to bring the legacy of how things were along with us. Manufacturing and disposal of new energy-generating devices – from solar panels to wind turbines to lithium batteries – is one of the greatest environmental challenges of the renewable energy transition.
Siemens Gamesa is helping make the energy transition sustainable with its recent announcement that its recycled wind turbine blades would find a home in the UK’s Dogger Bank wind complex, one of the world’s largest offshore wind farms.
Wind turbine blades are usually constructed with a core material such as wood or rigid foam supported by Fiber Reinforced Plastic (FRP). FRP is made of glass fibre, carbon fibre and resin and is historically very difficult to recycle. Although 85 percent of a turbine is technically recyclable, the feasibility of actually recycling the blades is difficult because, by design, the FRP resins and substrate are bonded together extremely well to ensure a blade is an integral unit without any voids or failure points. This bonding of core components has resulted in most turbine blades being disposed of in landfills. This waste takes up landfill space and can contaminate air, soil and groundwater as it slowly degrades over time.
There are a growing number of countries that have implemented bans or restrictions on FRP waste being disposed of in landfills. Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, France, Norway, Belgium, and various US states and Canadian provinces have banned the waste product from landfills. To prevent companies from circumventing the rules, the European Union has banned all non-recyclable plastic waste from being shipped to developing nations for disposal. China has also taken steps to limit its FRP waste imports, declaring it no longer wants to be the “world’s dumping ground.” These developments suggest that an increasing number of countries are taking steps to reduce their reliance on landfills as a means of disposing of plastic waste.
To solve the disposal problem associated with wind turbines, Siemens developed the RecyclableBlade recycled wind turbine blades using a proprietary resin and process, making it easier to separate the FRP from other components at the end of a wind turbine’s life. This process involves heating the wind turbine blades in a mildly acidic solution freeing up their components, and enabling them to be reused or recycled. The separated components can then be used for new wind turbines or in other industries and products, such as automobile parts.
Siemens Gamesa’s RecyclableBlades are now being used in a variety of offshore wind projects, such as the Kaskasi offshore wind power project in Germany and the Sofia wind farm in the UK’s Dogger Bank project, important and high-profile projects that will help cement these recyclable wind turbine blades as industry standard going forward.