Vestas Commits to Carbon Neutrality and the Circular Economy

by | Dec 6, 2022

US Renewable Energy

(Credit: Pixabay)

Vestas Wind Systems manufactures wind turbines. The Danish company says that it and its partners have reduced carbon emissions by 1.7 billion metric tons over the last four decades. Moreover, it is committed to circular product design initiatives and reducing CO2 emissions from manufacturing. It has 29,000 employees, and it has installed more than 160 gigawatts of wind turbines in 88 countries. 

“Consequently, sustainability at Vestas means reducing or eliminating negative environmental and social impacts. It also means maximizing the value our business and products create for our customers, employees, shareholders, suppliers, local communities, and the planet at large,” says Vestas’ 2021 environmental statement. 

The company emphasizes that it holds itself accountable to internationally recognized principles and standards, while it acts with integrity and responsibility. These efforts are enhancing its performance and helping elevate the industry’s standards. 

What is Vestas doing to decarbonize its internal operations? 

While Vestas conspicuously helps other enterprises achieve their energy goals by making and selling wind turbines, it is quietly trying to decarbonize its internal operations. The goal is carbon neutrality for its internal operations and the electricity it produces by 2030 — scopes 1 and 2. It will do so without using carbon offsets. What else? 

— Source 100% of electricity from renewable sources. 

— Electrifying its fleet of cars. Sixty-seven percent of its cars are now plug-in hybrids or electric vehicles. 

— Continuing to modernize its factory heating systems, in 2021, it transitioned from two natural gas boilers to biomass-powered ones. 

— Investigating alternative fuels for its offshore service vessels,

— Increasing its focus on accelerating the decarbonization of steel production.

Becoming a circular company is essential to its progress. To that end, it is scaling up recycling solutions for existing wind turbine blades. It has recycled 285 so far in the United States. It has also “engaged” 50 strategic suppliers in carbon footprint and waste reduction efforts — not just for itself but also for its suppliers. 

“The steel and shipping sectors remain hard to abate and contribute to a large portion of the world’s CO2 emissions,” says Lisa Ekstrand, head of sustainability. “This year, absolute CO2 emissions increased in our operations, mainly due to the integration of the offshore business, which resulted in additional fuel requirements for offshore vessels. In collaboration with suppliers and customers, we are committed to accelerating the deployment of sustainable fuels in the vessels we use for our offshore service operations.” 

But the company is committed to the faster development of green steel — which is critical to reducing its Scope 3 emissions tied to the supply chain. Vestas is not only a large consumer of steel, but it is also helping to decarbonize steel production through green hydrogen. 

Almost all steel is produced using iron oxide and metallurgical coal in blast furnaces set at 1100 degrees Celsius to remove water and other chemicals. It produces a pure-carbon source called coke that is ultimately used to make steel. The steel sector is responsible for as much as 7% of the globe’s greenhouse gas emissions. However, a lot of time and money goes into making that steel using hydrogen — not ‘met coal.’ 

The company, though, will not stand still while the industry experiments with making steel from green hydrogen. It invests in alternative native materials, such as wooden towers, to make turbines.

What the company is on pace to achieve:

— Carbon emission reduction in its operations of 55% from 2019 by 2025 and 100% by 2030,

— Carbon emission reduction in its supply chain (scope 3) of 45% per MWh delivered to the market from 2019 by 2025,

— rotor recyclability of 100% by 2025, and 

— Zero-waste wind turbines by 2040. 

What are Zero-Waste Turbines? 

Its circularity roadmap centers on the design, operations, and materials recovery. To decrease its waste, the company aims to increase its material efficiency by 90% by 2030, focusing on blade manufacturing — the biggest source of its production waste. “This work will involve raising waste awareness within our factories, optimizing blade design and production methods, sourcing more efficient manufacturing kits, and including circularity metrics in our key performance indicators,” it says. 

As far as blades go, it has committed to ensuring its rotors are 100% recyclable by 2030. Its goal is to redesign the turbine “or develop new circularity routes so that every turbine component will be recyclable by 2040.” It also wants to achieve a 50% reduction in supply chain waste intensity by 2030, and it aims to cut manufacturing waste inside of its shop through recycling by 94% by 2030. 

“The major components of Vestas turbines are already largely refurbished and re-utilized. However, our roadmap commits us to achieve 55 percent refurbished component utilization by 2030 and 75 percent by 2040, mainly by creating new repair loops for minor components,” the company says. This will lead to further waste reduction while cutting carbon emissions and driving local job creation.” 

Moreover, the company has set policies to reduce manufacturing waste going to landfills to less than 1% and waste incinerated to less than 1% by 2030. Meantime, it is increasing its recycling rate to 94% by 2030 — nearly double what it now does. 

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