ORE Catapult: Offshore Wind Turbine Blade Recycling Could Add 20,000 Jobs

At-scale recycling of offshore wind turbine blades could create an extra 20,000 jobs in the offshore wind sector, according to a report from the Energy Transition Alliance (ETA), a partnership between ORE Catapult and OGTC, with input from experts at the National Composites Centre (NCC) and the University of Leeds.

Based on the report, ORE Catapult has called for increased investment and a radical shift in research and development into blade recycling, citing the huge economic opportunities for the UK supply chain from a circular economy approach in offshore wind that could extend the sector’s UK job creation targets by a third.

The Sustainable Decommissioning – Wind Turbine Blade Recycling report was commissioned to investigate alternatives to landfill and incineration for end-of-life wind turbine blades.

While wind turbines are almost 85-90 per cent recyclable, blades have proven challenging to break down, process and recycle, and remain the major hurdle to achieving fully recyclability.

The report identified 14 technologies that show promise for recovering blade materials, but also that further work was needed before they could be deployed at scale and that issues such as environmental impacts, energy use and cost efficiency of techniques such as pyrolysis need to be addressed.

“The technologies exist, but to be viable, they require intensified investment and some new approaches to studying and addressing the remaining innovation challenges”, said Chris Hill, Director of Operational Performance at ORE Catapult. “Engagement with the UK supply chain is the first step for us: recycling is only of benefit when the recovered materials have saleable end-products that prevent deployment of virgin materials.

Wind turbine blade recycling would also open a major opportunity for UK companies to provide solutions for the recycling needs, according to ORE Catapult.

“A high-value circular economy, in which wind turbines are designed for durability and for repair, reuse and remanufacturing ahead of recycling the materials, has a high potential to minimise carbon emissions and to open new business opportunities for companies in the UK, creating thousands of jobs in our communities”, said Dr Anne Velenturf, a Research Impact Fellow at the University of Leeds.

The Energy Transition Alliance’s Blade Recycling Project will continue with assessing and appraising glass fibre recycling processes in order to identify the “best” potential solutions for further study and demonstration. ORE Catapult has targeted an at-scale demonstration of blade recycling in the UK within the next five years through both the ETA Blade Recycling Project and a new joint industry project Circular Economy in the Wind Sector (CEWS).