Science to the rescue of recycling wind installations
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The energy transition in the European economy has exposed a new serious problem – what to do with motors and gondolas from wind farms at the end of their useful lives.

Uses are being found for more and more blades from wind installations.

    According to data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, by 2022 a minimum of 3,800 blades will be taken out of service in Europe. As a rule, these are the biggest part of a wind energy installation – made out of composite materials intended to withstand the most extreme weather conditions and work loads.

    For the moment, finding alternative uses for them is unfeasible. Individual parts may be used as noise suppressorsor pressed into tiles for construction or even used as barriers – but these amount to rather small projects.

    But the problem is becoming more and more topical, given the development of wind power – and it requires a systemic solution.

    As a result, 10 large Danish companies have joined forces in a special consortium, DecomBlades, to work out scientific and technical projects on recycling gondolas and blades of wind power installations.

    One of the partners is Orsted – the world’s largest operator, LM Wind Power, owner and designer of sea-based wind farms and developer and manufacturer of wind installation blades and wind energy equipment (a branch of GE Renewable Energy) , Vesta, the world’s largest manufacturer of wind energy equipment, Siemens Gamesa, a supplier of wind energy technology, as well as two Danish universities and other companies.

    The consortium has been awarded funding from Innovation Fund Denmark’s Grand Solutions programme to co-fund the research and development project ‘DecomBlades’: a three-year project which seeks to provide basis for commercialisation of recycling of wind turbine blades using sustainable solutions. 

     “…We simply don’t yet have solutions that meet all those criteria,” said John Korsgaard, Chair of the DecomBlades Steering Committee. “To create viable, sustainable, cost-efficient solutions for recycling wind turbine blades, it is essential that composite materials from blades can be incorporated into similar resource streams and processed in the same facilities.”

    Today 85 to 95% of a wind turbine can be recycled, but cost-efficient recycling of composite materials remains a challenge.    The project focuses on three specific processes: shredding of wind turbine blades such that the material can be reused in different products and processes; use of shredded blade material in cement production; and, finally, a method to separate the composite material under high temperatures into fibres and resins, also known as pyrolysis.

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