With wind turbines estimated to last between 20-25 years, some of the earliest turbines are coming due for decommissioning. As these aged turbines start to need replacing, there’s a question of what to do with them. Fortunately, many parts of the wind turbine are recyclable. The foundation, tower, gearbox and generator can all be recycled. The blades, however? That’s another story.
The Trouble With Turbine Blades
Turbine blades are designed for lightweight, aerodynamic performance, not recyclability. They are usually made from composite materials that can’t be separated into their component parts and recycled. At least not for now; though there is progress being made on that front.
Until wind turbine blades can be consistently and easily recycled, turbine owners have to find other ways to dispose of the enormous blades.
Post-Turbine Uses For Wind Turbine Blades
So, where do old wind turbine blades go to die? Turns out, many of them find new life and uses:
- Architecture and Structures. The Netherlands has seen blades used in architecture and design such as seating, bus shelters, or even playgrounds.
- New Composite Materials. Broken down wind turbine blades are being explored as a new composite material, similar to wood composite. Possible uses include flooring, road barriers, and more.
- Fuel. Germany has the only industrial-scale wind turbine blade reprocessing factory in the world. The facility is exploring ways to use broken down blades as fuel by mixing fragments with other waste materials to be used in cement production.
- Reuse. We can hardly talk about recycling without mentioning reuse. Some larger blades can be cut down and re-purposed as smaller blades for community turbines.
As more turbines are replaced, we hope that even more innovative ideas and practices will arise that will keep the blades out of landfills. There’s also a strong likelihood that new materials will be developed that are more recyclable or biodegradable, making waste less of a concern when an old turbine comes down.