Clean Energy Journey

Revolutionizing Renewable Energy: How Wind Turbines Are Recycled and Reused

When it comes to wind turbines people have many questions. One is,   what can we do with all of the turbine materials when they eventually wear out and need replacing? It turns out, that many parts of a wind turbine, like the tower and other components, are routinely recycled. 

Wind turbines typically have a lifespan of around 25 years, and about 90 percent of their components—including steel, copper wire, electronics, and gearing—can be recycled or reused. However, the blades present a unique challenge. Constructed from fiberglass, a composite material, to balance lightness for efficiency with the durability required to endure storms, their composite nature complicates the separation of plastics from glass fibers for effective recycling. Additionally, the robustness required for the blades makes them physically tough to dismantle.

RWE, a European renewable energy developer, is piloting a fully recyclable wind turbine blade built by Siemens Gamesa, RWE is installing the world’s first recyclable wind turbine blade in one of their offshore wind farms. The blades are recyclable due to a novel resin type being used by Siemens. This resin’s chemical structure allows for the efficient separation of the resin from other materials. The method preserves the material properties, enabling their reuse in new casting applications, such as in the automotive industry, or in consumer products like flight cases and flat-screen casings.

Utilizing recyclable wind turbine blades is just one-way RWE is pioneering technology. At its 342-megawatt Kaskasi wind farm, the company is deploying recycled and recyclable materials in its offshore turbines as well as innovating construction processes and equipment that produces much less noise and minimizes impacts on the marine environment. Once completed, the 38 Kaskasi wind turbines will generate enough clean electricity to power roughly 400,000 households.

Other major turbine manufacturers are paying close attention to these innovations.  For instance, Vestas Wind Systems A/S, a major manufacturer, and installer of wind turbines worldwide, has pledged to create zero-waste, 100% recyclable wind turbines (including the blades!) by 2040. To realize this goal, Vestas seeks major collaboration with its supply chain partners to codesign and produce new materials that eliminate the need for incineration or landfilling because all component parts retain value for in reuse or recycling when a turbine is decommissioned or has parts replaced.

Questions remain about the recyclability of turbine blades, but in the meantime innovative companies around the world are racing to be the first to market with new, zero-waste wind turbine technology.