GE Advances Wind Turbine Blade Recycling With European Partnerships

(Credit: GE)

by | Jun 28, 2021

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(Credit: GE)

GE Renewable Energy is collaborating with European partners neowa and LafargeHolcim to advance wind turbine recycling and reuse as part of broader efforts to contribute to the European Commission’s (EC) circular economy action plan.

As governments and corporations aim to achieve their net zero targets, wind turbines are expected to grow significantly in the decades ahead. According to the Global Wind Energy Council, 2020 added 93 GW of new capacity installed – a 53% year-on-year increase – but that is not nearly enough to meet renewable energy targets.

GE’s European recycling partnerships focus on wind blades specifically – most other components of wind turbines are fully recyclable, containing primarily steel and copper. The blades, however, are made from materials such as fiberglass and are difficult to recycle so the blades often wind up in landfill.

The EC circularity plan, adopted in March of last year, focuses on how products are designed, promotes circular economy processes, encourages sustainable consumption, and aims to ensure that waste is prevented and the resources used are kept in the EU economy for as long as possible. Measures under the plan include:

  • Make sustainable products the norm in the EU.
  • Empower consumers and public buyers.
  • Focus on the sectors that use most resources and where the potential for circularity is high such as: electronics and ICT, batteries and vehicles, packaging, plastics, textiles, construction and buildings, food, water and nutrients.
  • Ensure less waste.
  • Make circularity work for people, regions and cities.
  • Lead global efforts on a circular economy.

GE’s multi-year agreement with neowa to dismantle and remove decommissioned turbines will recycle up to 90% of the turbines. Additionally, neowa’s proprietary process to shred turbine blades will create a feedstock for cement production.

With its research and development team, LafargeHolcim plans to explore how wind turbine blades can be turned into sustainable construction materials. This research builds on the company’s work, under its Geocycle brand, to recover energy from GE’s decommissioned turbine blades after they have been removed from the turbine and shredded.

Over the last few years, other major players in wind energy have announced plans to address the wind blade recycling issue, including Orsted’s efforts to reuse, recycle, or recover all turbine blades in its wind portfolio, a collaboration between academia and industry focusing on the recycling of glass fiber products, GE’s multi-year agreement with Veolia North America to recycle blades removed from onshore wind turbines in the U.S., and Vestas’ announcement to produce zero waste turbines by the year 2040.

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