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What happens at the end of a wind turbine's life cycle?
A wind turbine's lifespan is 20 - 30 years. Currently, between 85-90% of a turbine’s parts can be recycled or sold, including the foundation, tower, gear box, and generator.
At the end of their useful life, most turbine blades that have been removed from service go to landfills. Wind turbine blades are made of non-toxic fiberglass, which is completely safe for landfills. Although turbine blades are large, all turbine blade waste through 2050 represents approximately 0.05% of all the municipal solid waste going to landfills every year.
The wind industry does recognize the need for environmentally responsible turbine recycling and disposal.
In Europe, some blades are repurposed as sound barriers, thermal insulation, or even bridges.
In the United States, the need for recycling processes is creating a business opportunity. Startups like Global Fiberglass Solutions are developing processes to break down wind turbines blades and transform them into other useful materials, such as railroad ties and panels.
We can process 99.9% of a blade and handle about 6,000 to 7,000 blades a year per plant,
Don Lilly, Chief Executive Officer
Global Fiberglass Solutions.
Right now, there are two ways wind turbine blades can be recycled.
Mechanical Recycling entails cutting and dismantling blades on-site. The parts are shredded into raw fiberglass material that produces fine and course particulates that can be mixed with rock, plastic or other fillers. The mixture is then turned into thermoplastic fiberglass pellets or panels for use in various products. These pellets can also be used in injection molding and extrusion manufacturing processes, decking boards, warehouse pallets, parking bollards, manhole covers, building walkways and weather-resistant siding.
Thermal Recycling is essentially crushing and burning blades. The composition portion is combustible when burned and can be used for electricity generation or industrial processes, such as cement production. In fact, thermal recycling saves concrete production 16 percent of its overall carbon dioxide emissions. The leftover glass and carbon fibers go through what is referred to as “co-processing.” This is where fibers are mixed with fillers and reused in concrete, paint and glue.
For more information, check out our blog and fact sheet on this topic.