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Danish wind turbine manufacturer discovers a way to make blades recyclable

As beneficial as the increasing generation of wind energy may be, wind turbine blades end up in landfills at the end of their useful life. But now a major European wind turbine manufacturer, Denmark-based Vestas, has found a way to make the blades recyclable and circular.

Unlike the vast majority of a turbine components that have established recycling circles, recycling knives poses a serious challenge. This is due to the presence of epoxy resin, a resilient substance that has so far been difficult to break down into reusable components.

“Until now, the wind industry has believed that turbine blade material requires a new approach to design and manufacturing to be either recyclable or circular at end-of-life,” said Lisa Elkstrand, VP and Head of Sustainability at Vestas, said.

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The company’s solution is a new chemical process that can break down epoxy resin into new quality materials. Vestas claims the process requires no changes in design or material composition. It also relies on commonly available chemicals and boasts its compatibility for industrialization and, in turn, its potential to scale easily.

To develop this technology, the Danish manufacturer collaborated with Aarhus University, the Danish Institute of Technology and epoxy producer Olin — all partners of the CETEC initiative, which investigates the recyclability of wind blades. Vestas will also use a newly established value chain with Olin and Stena Recycling to commercialize the chemical process.

The goal is the production of new turbine blades made from recycled material from existing blades at the end of operation. In the future, the company foresees the use of epoxy-based composite materials for industries outside of wind energy.

“Once this new technology is widely implemented, the old blade material currently in landfills, as well as the blade material in active wind farms, can be dismantled and reused. This heralds a new era for the wind industry and accelerates our journey towards achieving circularity,” Elkstrand added.

If Vestas’ technology fulfills its mission, the potential benefits would be enormous. According to estimatesBy 2025, approximately 25,000 tons of blades will reach the end of their life each year in Europe.

The focus on recycling wind blades has gained momentum in recent years among wind energy producers such as Siemens Gamesa And Iberdola stepping up efforts. However, further initiatives are needed to boost this niche industry, which is why WindEurope, the continent’s wind energy association, has called for regulations to ban the removal of wind blades altogether.

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