Difficulties in Recycling wind turbine blades 

Wind turbines are relatively simple, as the blades turn, they turn a generator that then produces electricity. With such basic principals building a wind turbine should have been easy, but it takes a complex design of strength and aerodynamics for wind turbines to produce energy. To get the maximum wind energy, the wind turbine blades have to be at the optimal pitch.

Recycling wind turbine blades.webp

Wind power green energy is fast growing but the recycling for it is not environmentally friendly

The pitch of most wind turbine is automatically adjusted to match wind speed variations to capture of maximum amount of energy from the wind. The wind turbine blades experience huge amounts of stress working 24 hours a day exposed to the elements. Under these conditions, wind turbine blades have to be replaced about every 10-12 years. The wind turbine blades were claimed to be designed for 20-25 years, but out of the 341,000 wind turbines on the planet, there is 1% or 3,800 blade fails reported every year. There are also concerns of the fiberglass turbine blade production, that releases toxic hazardous pollutants and volatile organic compounds.

 

Fiberglass can be controversial for its environmental and health risks

Wind turbine blades, are proving to be impossible to recycle in being environmentally friendly and are a growing source of waste. The blade are typically made from fiberglass and balsam wood, and the challenge is breaking that material down, therefore turbine blades have been piling up in landfills. Although fiberglass composite wind turbine blades are made with a toxic resin, claims are the toxic chemicals are not released into the environment when buried in a landfill. Consequently, more than 50 million tons of decommissioned wind turbine blades will be added to landfills within the next decade.

 

In order to truly make energy harvested by wind turbines a sustainable energy, finding ways to manage the waste effectively from decommissioned turbines is needed to be environmentally friendly. Recyclability should be a top concern for sustainable energy waste rather than covering it up in a landfill.

Recycling fiberglass wind turbine blades

One company in the U.S.A, Veolia, is now shredding the turbine blades so they can be used to make cement. But making cement from wind turbine blades is still a major source of green house gases and only 65% of the blades can be recycled into cement.

 

If a single wind turbine blade weighs 7 tons, this means 65% or 4.55 tons are recycled into cement. To make this cement 28% or 1.95 tons is used as fuel in the cement kiln, and the remaining 7% 0.55 ton is still waste that will probably still end up in a landfill. Compared to coal, GE, and Veolia both claim that by burning 28% of a turbine blade as fuel for the cement kiln, it will reduces CO2 emissions by 27%.

Incinerating wind turbine blades is not environmentally friendly

GE and Veolia only compare their carbon emissions to coal. The industrial world has been transitioning away from coal for a number of decades now, and more natural gas is being used in place of it. Many cement kilns today are fired with natural gas. Natural gas when compared to coal has almost a 50% reduction in CO2 emissions for the same energy produced. When compared to burning 28% of all wind turbine blades to fire cement kilns, natural gas has a further reduction of 22% in CO2 emissions.

 

Pounds of CO2 emitted per million British thermal unit of energy for various fuels

  • Coal (anthracite) 228.60

  • Coal (bituminous) 205.40

  • Coal (lignite) 216.24

  • Coal (subbituminous) 214.13

  • Diesel and heating oil 163.45

  • Wind turbine blades 156.31

  • Gasoline (without ethanol) 155.77

  • Propane 138.63

  • Natural gas 116.65

 

Natural gas clearly the better option, instead of Incinerating 28% (1.95 tons) of every recycled wind turbine blade for energy to get the chemical reaction required to make 4.55 tons of cement product material. Incinerating fiberglass wind turbine blades releases carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and a formaldehyde residue, from the toxic fiberglass resin that is used to make the blades. This toxic ash must be disposed of, and often it ends up in landfills and imposes significant environmental impacts. This toxic ash will eventually cause contamination of soil and water that will eventually end up in our food chain.

Claims made by wind turbine blade recycler

On the Veolia website bottom of the page, is environmental impact analysis. This analysis is not done by Veolia, it is linked to Quantis, and no where on the Quantis website were we able to find the reduction claim report that is supported by them. The claim is " A single wind turbine blade that weighs 7 US tons recycled through this process enables the cement kiln to avoid consuming nearly 5 tons of coal, 2.7 tons of silica, 1.9 tons of limestone, and nearly a ton of additional mineral-based raw materials."

 

First of all, most types of cements contain 35 to 40% lime, 40 to 50% alumina, up to 15% iron oxides, and preferably not more than 6% silica. During the process for making Portland cement, for every ton of materials that go into the kiln two thirds of a ton comes out which is called clinker. With shrinkage added in, 4.55 tons of cement would have only 0.455 tons of silica, so it is not possible to have a reduction of 2.7 tons of silica. We have contacted Veolia to clarify this statement and also asked if there additional minerals added to their recycle process.

 

The recycling process done by Veolia, requires mechanically cutting, and shredding the turbine blades to be repurposed. This only produces poor quality fiber partials to use as a filler reinforcement material for cement. Other minerals are still needed to produce a cement product. On the Veolia website is also a claim that "it has a net-positive environmental impact on human health". But, the recycling process produces toxic dust particles. Occupational exposure and prolonged inhalation of these fiberglass particles results in acute pulmonary alveolitis, which is an inflammatory lung disorder.

Sustainable energy needs to have a environmentally friendly recycling process

Sustainable energy needs a environmental friendly recycling process, and we have also asked Veolia why they are burning turbine blades for energy when natural gas is a better alternative. At the time of this article publication Veolia has not yet replied. There are clearly faults in this recycling process that should and can be corrected to be more environmental friendly. This recycling procedure will probably end up getting government subsidies without having to become environmentally friendly, proving that some companies and organization are clearly cashing in on ineffective recycling procedure that is not environmentally friendly.

 

Wind turbine energy generation is government subsidized. The credit has offset the cost of building wind turbines by about 30%, which is paid for by the taxpayer. Without this subsidy, new wind power energy would cost 10.66 cent per kwh. Natural gas-burning plants come in at just 6.3 cents per kwh.

 
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