Sustainability Matters Aug/Sep 2022

Page 20

Out of puff End-of-life plan needed for wind turbine blades


new study led by Profes-

need to be factored into their production

sor Peter Majewski at The

and running costs.

University of South Australia

“Our research indicates the most likely

indicates tens of thousands of

viable option is a product stewardship or

wind turbine blades will end

extended producer responsibility approach,

up in landfill by the end of the decade unless

where the cost of recycling the blades

end-of-life programs are established soon.

is factored into either the cost of their

The study highlights the challenges of

manufacture or the cost of their operation.

recycling wind turbine blades, which are

“So, drawing on the experience of simi-

made of either carbon fibre or glass fibre

lar programs for other products, either the

composite material, both of which are ex-

manufacturer must take responsibility for

pensive to break down, with the recovered

what needs to be done with the blades at

materials having minimal market value.

the end of their useful life, or the wind farm

“The same features that make these

operators must provide end-of-life solutions

blades cost-effective and reliable for use

as part of the planning approval process for

in commercial wind turbines make them

their business operations.”

very difficult to recycle in a cost-effective fashion,” Majewski said.

While self-regulation may offer one solution, Majewski believes the long lifespan and

“As it is so expensive to recycle them,

high cost of blades means official frame-

and the recovered materials are worth so

works are required to ensure transition of

little, it is not realistic to expect a market-

responsibility where necessary.

based recycling solution to emerge, so

“If manufacturers disappear, or wind

policymakers need to step in now and plan

farms go broke, we need to ensure processes

what we’re going to do with all these blades

are still in place for the turbine blades to

that will come offline in the next few years.”

be disposed of properly,” he said.

In many parts of the world, wind turbine

Majewski said it is likely consumers will

blades are currently dumped in landfill, but

ultimately bear some of the end-of-life cost

this practice has been banned in some

through energy tariffs, but he believes mar-

European countries, and with estimates

ket competition between energy producers

suggesting there will be more than 40

should help to minimise the impact of that

million tons of blade waste worldwide by

on the public.

2050, alternative solutions are urgently being sought.

“There will be some cost to this for everyone involved, but we have to accept

Majewski said that while there is some

that as part of the cost of producing energy

very limited potential for reuse of blades

in this way,” Majewski said. “Without such

in niche construction settings and a small

solutions, energy options like wind and

market for some of the reclaimed materi-

solar may prove to be no more sustainable

als, it is likely the costs of disposing of

than the old technologies they are aiming

the blades in a sustainable fashion will

to replace.”


This issue is sponsored by — ABB Australia Pty Limited —