Wind turbine blade recycling: Experiences, challenges and possibilities in a circular economy

January 19, 2024

The wind power industry is a fast growing, global consumer of glass fiber-reinforced plastics (GFRP) composites, which correlates with the industry’s rapid growth in recent years. Considering current and future developments, GFRP waste amounts from the wind industry are expected to increase. Therefore, a sustainable process is needed for dealing with wind turbines at the end of their service life in order to maximize the environmental benefits of wind power. Most components of a wind turbine such as the foundation, tower, gear box and generator are already recyclable and treated accordingly. Nevertheless, wind turbine blades represent a challenge due to the type of materials used and their complex composition. There are a number of ways to treat GFRP waste, depending on the intended application. The best available waste treatment technologies in Europe are outlined in this paper. However, there is a lack of practical experiences in applying secondary materials in new products. A Danish innovation consortium was addressing this waste with a predominant focus on the blades from the wind power industry. The outcomes from the consortium and the various tested tools are presented in this paper as well as the secondary applications that were proposed. The outcomes are structured using Ellen MacArthur’s circular economy diagram. The “adjusted” diagram illustrates the potentials for a continuous flow of composite materials through the value circle, where secondary applications were developed in respect to “reuse”, “resize and reshape”, “recycle”, “recover” and ‘conversion’. This included applications for architectural purposes, consumer goods, and industrial filler material. By presenting the outcomes of the consortium, new insights are provided into potential forms of reuse of composites and the practical challenges that need to be addressed.
J.P. Jensen, K. Skelton
J.P. Jensen, K. Skelton. (2018), Wind turbine blade recycling: Experiences, challenges and possibilities in a circular economy. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 97: 165-176.