Tens of thousands of wind turbine blades are completing their life cycle in landfills due to the complexity of recycling the fiberglass from which they are made, according to Bloomberg Green. The blade is made strong enough to withstand hurricane gusts of wind, and its length can exceed the length of the wing of a Boeing 747.
About 8,000 “windmill” blades will be written off over the next four years in the United States alone. In Europe, the service life of 3,800 blades will end next year. These figures will continue to grow as the number of wind farms increases. Many European countries have set themselves the goal of switching to renewable energy sources by 2050, and wind energy is one of the cheapest ways to achieve this.
85% of turbine components – steel, copper wires, electronics, etc. – can be recycled. But the fiberglass from which the blades are made is much more difficult to dispose of. The blade is made strong enough to withstand hurricane-force winds, and its length can exceed the length of the wing of the Boeing 747 (65 meters).
The complexity of recycling begins with the fact that this vast element must be cut with a special saw with a diamond coating into several parts that can be loaded for transportation.
In the United States, shovels are mostly sent to landfills. The Municipal Landfill in Casper, Wyoming, now houses 870 decommissioned windmill blades. The height of this pile reaches ten meters.
In the European Union, there are stricter requirements for materials that can be disposed of in landfills. Some blades are burned in factories, converting them into energy, but fiberglass has little energy equivalent during combustion and also releases harmful substances.
Some companies are looking for ways to recycle windmill components. For example, the American startup Global Fiberglass Solutions develops technology for grinding blades and pressing them into fiberglass panels that can be used as floor or wall coverings. The company claims that it can process 6-7 thousand blades a year.
At the same time, the American Wind Energy Association claims that storing blades in landfills is the safest and cheapest way out of the situation.
“After completion of the operation, wind turbine blades are safe, unlike waste from other energy sources, and also account for a small share (0.015%) of total solid waste in the United States,” the organization said.
First-generation wind turbines are becoming obsolete and need to be replaced with more modern and efficient ones. This process, called power upgrades, has begun at different rates across Europe.
You may read here why it is difficult to dispose of used wind turbines.