The European Union plans to reach at least 60 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030 and 300 GW in 2050. The UK also has ambitious plans. It wants 40 gigawatts of offshore capacity in 2030. Offshore wind energy investments are also being made outside Europe. Apart from this, onshore wind energy is being developed. Apart from the obvious benefit of obtaining green energy, the process is also associated with many challenges. One of them is the fate of worn out shovels.

Organizations promoting renewable energy have called for a pan-European ban on dumping shovels in landfills. This is where most of the used blades land. By 2023, about 15,000 will be dismantled in the UK and EU alone. turbine blades. The amount of waste will increase significantly in the future.

Manufacturers want to recycle it, but this is not easy due to the fact that the blades are made of composite materials with a heterogeneous structure, consisting of several components with different properties. They are basically a mixture of epoxy glue and fiberglass.

There are technologies available that allow composite materials to be recycled through mechanical, thermal or chemical processes, but – as Vestas experts have pointed out – the problem is the economy of such a solution, the quality and scale of the recycling.

A windmill arm will have trouble storing these items. It is estimated that by 2050 there will be up to 43 million tons of waste in the form of turbine blades alone. This problem needs to be addressed today, as we move towards a circular economy, zero waste, increased environmental awareness, and responsible action.

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In early 2020, Vestas committed to producing “waste-free” wind turbines by 2040. First, it plans to increase the recycling rate of axles and blades from 44%. Currently up to 50 percent. in 2025 and 55 per cent. In 2030 – At Vestas, zero waste means conserving materials and resources through responsible production and consumption, including recycling, reuse and recovery, without waste incineration and burial, explained Alan Poulsen of Vestas Innovation and Concepts.

Vestas reports that the average service life of a turbine is between 20 and 25 years, although there have been turbines in operation for three decades or more. The company explains that most turbines can be recycled. Materials such as steel, copper and other metals are largely recyclable. Other parts, such as electrical components and cables, can also be recycled to a greater or lesser extent. Hybrid foundations and towers containing large amounts of concrete can be recycled.

But the turbine also contains about 50 tons of “non-metallic” materials, such as paint, composites (glass, carbon fiber, epoxy), glue and rubber. They require special recycling processes. Of the 50 tons of waste, about 75 per cent. The weight falls on the shovels.

The company works extensively with suppliers, universities and customers to develop materials that have improved environmental properties or can replace other non-recyclable materials.

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In turn, in June of this year, Danish Ørsted announced that it would stop hoarding wind turbine blades and pledge to 100% reuse, recycle or recover. All blades are from onshore and offshore wind farms. It will store the items used until it finds a way.

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Guided by a vision of a world powered only by green energy and wishing to accelerate the development of renewable energy sources, we must also make further commitments to invest in an increasingly sustainable way for ecosystems. We don’t yet know all the answers to the challenges involved in implementing these ambitions, said Mads Knepper, the company’s CEO.

Late last year, GE Renewable Energy and Veolia North America signed an agreement to recycle blades removed from onshore wind turbines in the United States. GE Renewable Energy said the blades will be shredded at its VNA plant in Missouri before being used as “a substitute for coal, sand and clay in cement plants across the United States.”

The companies estimated that the reuse of blades in this way would allow 27 percent. Net reduction of CO2 emissions from cement production. In the case of water consumption, that would mean a net reduction of 13%.

In the world, turbines used to build transmission towers, bridge elements or noise barriers erected on highways are also considered. Companies indicate the possibility of converting it, for example, into chips in stadiums or using it in the production of adhesives and paints. The blade strength used is also used by construction companies to be used as an alternative to steel on some projects.

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Monica Borkoska