Wind turbine blades have to be light and strong, which makes them very difficult to recycle

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One source of clean energy is turning into a dirty problem for Europe.

The Continent’s first wind farms, built three decades ago, now host many towers that are too old, too small and too inefficient to keep working.

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It doesn’t often make sense for wind developers to cling to old turbines. Instead, they often rebuild existing wind farms, which already have appropriate permits, by replacing them with newer and more effective turbines. That means all of the old turbines, towers and foundations have to be dismantled.

That creates the dilemma of what to do with old installations — especially the rotor blades.

In 2014, the most recent year for which data is available, Germany had to deal with 54,000 tons of waste from rotor blades.

Kilotons of FRP composites used to produce the EU's wind turbines, by year, including projected use:
SOURCE: Wind Europe. 


Schneider says wind industry claims that blades can be recycled are simplistic. “They shred the stuff … to eventually produce [refuse-derived] fuel for industrial processes, such as cement — that’s the theory, but we know it’s not that easy.”

So burning the shredded blades is one option. Another is to cut, shred or mill the blades into powder and fibrous fractions and then use the material as fillers or reinforcements or fuel to burn waste.

But for both options, the blades first must be cut into smaller sections, and that generates potentially dangerous amounts of dust, the wind industry said.

Other ways of handling blade waste include incorporating them into other wind turbines or using them in construction projects such as playgrounds or bridges.

The scale of the problem is likely to grow. Today, there are about 77,000 onshore and offshore wind turbines in Europe, according to WindEurope, and 640 megawatts worth were decommissioned in 2017.

The wind industry insists it will be able to handle the resulting waste problem.

via Small old wind towers make for big new problems – POLITICO