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Breakthrough claimed in wind turbine recycling

Danish wind turbine manufacturer says a partnership with Stena Recycling and chemical manufacturer Olin has shown that existing end-of-life epoxy-based turbine blades can be recovered for a second use through chemical recycling.

The announcement overturns conventional thinking that what is needed for recycling is a new approach to design and manufacture. ‘We can now view old epoxy-based blades as a source of raw material,’ says Lisa Ekstrand, vice president and head of sustainability at Vestas.

‘Once this new technology is implemented at scale, legacy blade material currently sitting in landfill, as well as blade material in active windfarms, can be disassembled, and re-used. This signals a new era for the wind industry and accelerates our journey towards achieving circularity.’

In the mature markets for wind energy, the first turbines are reaching the end of their operational lives. WindEurope expects around 25 000 tonnes of blades to do so annually by 2025.

Turbine blades have previously been challenging to recycle because of the chemical properties of epoxy resin, a substance that was thought to be impossible to break down into re-usable components. This prompted technology leaders to try to replace or modify epoxy resin with alternatives that can be more easily treated.

Vestas’ solution chemically breaks down epoxy resin into virgin-grade materials. Vestas will now focus on scaling up the novel chemical disassembly process into a commercial solution.

‘In the coming years, thousands of turbines will be decommissioned or repowered, representing a major sustainability challenge but also a valuable source of composite materials.’ says Henrik Grand Petersen, md of Stena Recycling Denmark. ‘As one of Europe’s leading recycling groups with a wide footprint in Europe, we have a central role in the transition to a circular economy.

‘We see this solution as a huge opportunity to take part in making a sustainable solution even more sustainable and circular and are ready to apply our chemical recycling expertise and knowledge to this process.’

Vestas designs, manufactures, installs, and services onshore and offshore wind turbines across the globe, and with more than 160 GW of wind turbines in 88 countries.

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