Sustainability implications of current approaches to end-of-life of wind turbine blades – a review

Emma L. Delaney*, Paul G. Leahy, Jennifer M. McKinley, T. Russell Gentry, Angela J. Nagle, Jeffrey Elberling, Lawrence C. Bank*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
55 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

In recent years, the sustainability of wind power has been called into question because there are currently no truly sustainable solutions to the problem of how to deal with the non-biodegradable fibre-reinforced polymer (FRP) composite wind blades (sometimes referred to as “wings”) that capture the wind energy. The vast majority of wind blades that have reached their end-of-life (EOL) currently end up in landfills (either in full-sized pieces or pulverized into smaller pieces) or are incinerated. The problem has come to a head in recent years since many countries (especially in the EU) have outlawed, or expect to outlaw in the near future, one or both of these unsustainable and polluting disposal methods. An increasing number of studies have addressed the issue of EOL blade “waste”; however, these studies are generally of little use since they make predictions that do not account for the manner in which wind blades are decommissioned (from the time the decision is made to retire a turbine (or a wind farm) to the eventual disposal or recycling of all of its components). This review attempts to lay the groundwork for a better understanding of the decommissioning process by defining how the different EOL solutions to the problem of the blade “waste” do or do not lead to “sustainable decommissioning”. The hope is that by better defining the different EOL solutions and their decommissioning pathways, a more rigorous research base for future studies of the wind blade EOL problem will be possible. This paper reviews the prior studies on wind blade EOL and divides them into a number of categories depending on the focus that the original authors chose for their EOL assessment. This paper also reviews the different methods chosen by researchers to predict the quantities of future blade waste and shows that depending on the choice of method, predictions can be different by orders of magnitude, which is not good as this can be exploited by unscrupulous parties. The paper then reviews what different researchers define as the “recycling” of wind blades and shows that depending on the definition, the percentage of how much material is actually recycled is vastly different, which is also not good and can be exploited by unscrupulous parties. Finally, using very recent proprietary data (December 2022), the paper illustrates how the different definitions and methods affect predictions on global EOL quantities and recycling rates.



Original languageEnglish
Article number12557
Number of pages19
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Volume15
Issue number16
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 18 Aug 2023

Keywords

  • End-of-life
  • Wind turbine blades
  • Uncertainties
  • Blade waste forecast
  • Recycling
  • wind turbine blades
  • end-of-life
  • recycling
  • uncertainties
  • blade waste forecast

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Information Systems and Management
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Civil and Structural Engineering

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