Vestas is working on commercialisation of a new solution that would bring epoxy-based turbine blades into a circular economy, without the need for changing the design or composition of blade material, and eliminating the ‘landfill’ solution for end-of-life blades. Combining newly discovered chemical technology developed within the CETEC initiative, and partnerships with Olin and Stena Recycling, the solution can be applied to blades currently in operation. Once matured, this technology is expected to eliminate the need for blade redesign, or landfill disposal of epoxy-based blades when they are decommissioned.
“Until now, the wind industry has believed that turbine blade material calls for a new approach to design and manufacture to be either recyclable, or beyond this, circular, at end of life. Going forward, we can now view old epoxy-based blades as a source of raw material. Once this new technology is implemented at scale, legacy blade material currently sitting in landfill, as well as blade material in active windfarms, can be disassembled, and re-used. This signals a new era for the wind industry, and accelerates our journey towards achieving circularity,” said Lisa Ekstrand, VP and head of Sustainability at Vestas.
Turbine blades have been difficult to recycle owing to the chemical properties of epoxy resin, a resilient substance that was believed to be impossible to break down into re-usable components. This has led to many technology leaders attempting to replace or modify epoxy resin with alternatives that can be more easily treated. Vestas’ solution is enabled by a novel chemical process that can chemically break down epoxy resin into usable-grade materials. The chemical process was developed in collaboration with Aarhus University, Danish Technological Institute, and Olin the partners of the CETEC project.
“The newly discovered chemical process shows that epoxy-based turbine blades, whether in operation or sitting in landfill, can be turned into a source of raw material to potentially build new turbine blades. As the chemical process relies on widely available chemicals, it is highly compatible for industrialisation, and can therefore be scaled up quickly” said Mie Elholm Birkbak, a specialist in Innovation & Concepts at Vestas.
Vestas will now focus on scaling up the novel chemical disassembly process into a commercial solution. WindEurope expects around 25,000 tonnes of blades to reach the end of their operational life annually by 2025.
Once mature, the new solution will give Vestas the opportunity to make new turbine blades from re-used blade material. In the future, the new solution also signals the possibility to make all epoxy-based composite material a source of raw material for a broader circular economy, potentially encompassing industries beyond wind energy.
Image courtesy of Vestas