Since wind turbines blades cannot be recycled, a question that arises is what happens to them after the end of their life span.
Clean energy has been deployed in the fight against climate change and the usage of fossil fuels has been significantly reduced. Wind power has proved to be an efficient manner to produce clean energy. However, dumping the deteriorating wind turbines creates a new environmental puzzle.
The vast size of the wind blames and the carbon fiber material from which they are made are necessary so they can withstand the massive wind loads. However, it makes recycling or crushing them impossible. Therefore, most of the aging blades end up in landfills.
Currently, the turbines established in the 1990s are reaching their life expectancy and need to be removed. In Europe, 3,800 wind turbines will be dismantled in 2022 and 8,000 more will be removed in the United Stated until 2024. Since those numbers are going to increase in the future, their disposal has become a challenging environmental issue.
870 of those blades have been buried in the municipal landfill of Casper, Wyoming, and 130 more will be stored until March 2020. Those 90-meter blades were utilized for 25 years in northwest Wyoming and each of them was cut in three pieces in order to be stacked in a trailer and transported to the landfill.
Currently, scientists are investigating the potential alternatives for the disposal of the turbines. In the European Union, some of the old blades are burned to generate power or they are sent to kilns where they are also burned to produce cement. Nevertheless, both procedures are inefficient and produce harmful pollutants.
Global Fiberglass Solutions, a start-up company established in 2009 in the United States, has introduced a new technique to deal with the problem. This method suggests breaking down the blades and compress them into fiberboards or pellets. “We can process 99.9% of a blade and handle about 6,000 to 7,000 blades a year per plant. When we start to sell to more builders, we can take in a lot more of them. We’re just gearing up,” Don Lilly, CEO of Global Fiberglass Solutions, stated.
The Netherlands have found another approach to make use of the deteriorating blades. In Rotterdam, a 1,200-m2 playground with tunnels, ramps and slides created from old blades was established. Similar concepts that include another playground, bus stops and outdoor seats have been created throughout the country.
Despite these initiatives, it should be pointed out that, until a beneficial and legitimate solution is found, unfortunately, most of the blades will end up in landfills.