- Published: 16 June 2021 16 June 2021
Giles Dickson, CEO of WindEurope, and Juan Virgilio Márquez, General Director of AEE, today called upon the European Commission to propose a Europe-wide ban on landfilling decommissioned wind turbine blades. The ban should enter into force by 2025 and also apply to other large composite components in the nacelles of modern wind turbines.
With today’s call, the European wind industry actively commits to re-use, recycle, or recover 100% of decommissioned blades. At the same time the industry commits not to send decommissioned blades from Europe to other countries outside of Europe for landfilling.
Blades contain complex composite materials - a combination of reinforced fibres (usually glass or carbon fibres) and a polymer matrix. These composites boost the performance of wind turbines. They allow for lighter and longer blades with optimised aerodynamics. But their configuration also poses challenges for recycling.
Such composites are not only used in wind turbine blades. They are important materials in sectors such as aviation, automotives, marine transport, aeronautics, leisure and sports equipment, construction and building.
There are some technologies available to recycle the composite materials in blades, and an increasing number of companies offer composite recycling services, but these solutions are not yet mature enough, widely available at industrial scale and/or cost-competitive. Making these technologies commercially viable will require commitment from policy makers, other composite users and the recycling industry.
In Europe’s most mature markets for wind energy the first turbines are reaching the end of their operational life. The number of blades that have been decommissioned so far remains low. But it will increase over the coming years. WindEurope expects around 25,000 tonnes of blades to reach the end of their operational life annually by 2025. Towards the end of the decade the annual decommissioned volume could double to 52,000 tonnes by 2030.
Governments can play a decisive role in driving the circularity of wind turbine blades. They should increase funding on Research and Development (R+D) in the commercialisation and scale up of different blade recycling technologies. These include mechanical grinding, pyrolysis, microwave pyrolysis, high-voltage pulse fragmentation, solvolysis and fluidised bed. The EU should also provide R+D funding to foster the development and use of new circular blade materials.
As a next step, the wind industry will develop a roadmap, further detailing the steps required to accelerate wind turbine blade circularity. In doing so WindEurope will closely collaborate with the chemicals industry, as a provider of innovative chemical recycling solutions, as well as other composite using industries, such as the boating industry.