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Critical question: How to recycle 12 000 wind turbines?

More than 2 million tonnes of composite materials were used to build 13 000 wind turbines across the EU. For recyclers, this still represents a niche waste market. A new research project is hoped to foster much-needed innovation.

No less than 12 000 wind turbines will be decommissioned in the next five years. This means around 5000 wind turbine blades will need to be recycled by 2020, with at least another 10 000 blades ready for dismantling in 2030. These blades have an average life cycle of 20 years.

It is possible to recycle the valuable composite materials through cement co-processing. Using this method, the cement raw materials are partially replaced by the glass fibres and fillers in the composite, and the organic fraction replaces coal as a fuel.

Expanding the range of recycling options is ‘critical’ for the industry’s development, urges the European Composites Industry Association. That’s why it launched a ‘cross-sector recycling platform’ in partnership with WindEurope and the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic).

‘The first generation of wind turbines are now starting to come to the end of their operational life and be replaced by modern turbines,’ comments WindEurope ceo Giles Dickson. ‘Recycling the old blades is a top priority for us, and teaming up with the chemical and compositors industries will enable us to do it the most effective way.’

Cefic director ceneral Marco Mensink underlines the importance of making wind turbine blades ‘more reliable, affordable and recyclable’. He adds: ‘Innovation is born from collaboration and we look forward to working together to advance wind turbine blade recycling.’

EUCIA president Roberto Frassine points out: ‘With this project we hope to set a great industry standard that ultimately will also help customers in other industries like marine and building & infrastructure.’

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