The race to make zero-waste wind turbine blades

LM Wind Power worker measures wind turbine blade component (zero-waste)
Image: LM Wind Power

GE’s renewable energy unit LM Wind Power will manufacture zero-waste wind turbine blades by 2030 in an effort to make the manufacturing process of the blades more sustainable.

GE Renewable Energy said its Denmark-headquartered LM Wind Power subsidiary would “reuse, repurpose, recycle or recover all the excess materials from manufacturing of blades, giving up on landfilling and incineration as waste management solutions.”

The announcement only relates to waste from the manufacturing process and does not cover what happens to the blades when their service life ends.

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The firm is looking to address the end-of-life issue through the DecomBlades consortium—an initiative focused on blade recycling and made up of several major players in the industry.

It’s also involved in ZEBRA—or the Zero Waste Blade Research project—which focuses on the design and manufacture of fully recyclable wind turbine blades.

The issue of what to do with wind turbine blades when they’re no longer needed has been a point of contention for the wind power industry, with the composite materials blades are made from proving difficult to recycle.

Approximately 20-25 per cent of the materials purchased by wind turbine blade manufacturers do not go into the final product, and research indicates that blade manufacturing waste volumes are expected to be larger than decommissioned blade volumes during the coming decade.

“We have a track-record of working with our partners to address our most pressing challenges. Our technology has played a crucial role in making wind power one of the most competitive sources of electricity,” LM Wind Power CEO Olivier Fontan said.

“Now the focus has evolved from making wind power not only competitive, but also making the industry sustainable. It is not one or the other but both. We are determined to work with our partners to reduce the carbon footprint of wind turbines; together we can be the example of how an industry transforms its value chain to support the green transition and the critical move to a circular economy. Zero-waste blades are our contribution to this industry mission.”

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Industry body WindEurope wants a Europe-wide landfill ban on decommissioned wind turbine blades by 2025, leading a number of companies to develop their own solutions to the challenge.   

According to CNBC, Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy launched what it claimed were the world’s first recyclable wind turbine blades for commercial use offshore. Denmark’s Orsted said it would “reuse, recycle, or recover” all turbine blades in its worldwide portfolio of wind farms once decommissioned. GE Renewable Energy and cement manufacturer Holcim has also struck a deal to explore the recycling of wind turbine blades. Another major player, Vestas, is aiming to produce “zero-waste” wind turbines by 2040.