Cross-Sector Approach Way Forward for UK’s Blade Recycling – Report

Net Zero Technology Centre (NZTC) and Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult have released a new report, which highlights UK’s potential to become a global leader in wind turbine blade recycling if a cross-industry approach is taken.

Image for illustrative purposes only. Source: Ørsted

The report, titled Wind Turbine Blade Recycling P2, funded by the Offshore Wind Innovation Hub (OWIH), highlighted that approximately 14,000 wind turbine blades were expected to reach the end of their usable life within the next three years. It is estimated that by 2023 up to 50,000 tonnes of composite material could be recovered and recycled for a variety of re-use applications. By driving forward a better understanding of the circular economy, the possibility of disposal in landfill or incineration can be avoided and liability reduced.

There has been significant investment within the renewable energy sector to improve installation, operations, and maintenance. The focus is now shifting to sustainable end-of-life management as the first offshore wind farms approach decommissioning in the next ten years.

Over the next three decades, the industry faces significant growth in the scale of turbines expected to be decommissioned and is seeking solutions for lifetime extension and more sustainable end-of-life management, such as repowering and circular economy practices.

According to the report, some of the key areas that the sector must address to achieve a more circular economic model are encouraging the use of materials that will be more compatible with a circular economy and developing processes that are cheaper and easier for recovery of materials during decommissioning.

Furthermore, the report emphasises the importance of creating industrial-scale pilot projects to validate new methods and technologies for recycling, establishing a supply chain market for recycled material, and educating the marketplace on opportunities for recycled materials from wind turbines.

”The report illustrates what can be achieved in this industry if we can develop a collaborative approach that involves all sectors striving for sustainable decommissioning. With input from manufacturers through to end-users, we can reinvent how wind turbines are recycled,” says Pamela Lomoro, Project Manager at the Net Zero Technology Centre.

Over the past 30 years, the drive to achieve higher energy yields and economic efficiency has led to turbine designs of increasingly larger sizes and high-performance materials.

While wind turbines are widely expected to be up to 90 per cent recyclable, the blades, which are made from composite layers of stiff carbon or glass fibres in a resin matrix, are notoriously challenging to reclaim and reprocess, and remain the most significant hurdle to achieving full wind turbine recyclability.

‘’WindEurope estimates that 10% of all composite material waste will come from the wind sector over the coming years. It is a massive opportunity and with the right funding, policy direction, and appetite, we could see the UK become a global leader in circular economy solutions,’’ says Lorna Bennet, Project Lead at ORE Catapult.

The report follows the one NZTC and ORE published in March, the Wind Turbine Blade Recycling Phase 1, which was focused on the possibility of offshore wind turbine blade recycling generating more jobs in the future.