Developing a GIS-based decision-making framework for the repurposing of decommissioned wind turbine blades

  • Emma Delaney

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


With the first generation of commercial wind farm instalments approaching their end-of-life stage, the wind industry now faces a major environmental challenge regarding the removal and disposal of anticipated quantities of non-biodegradable fibre-reinforced polymer composite material wind turbine blades. Identifying circular economy pathways for blade disposal is essential to ensure wind energy remains as sustainable as possible. The repurposing of blades in engineering and industrial applications could potentially reduce demand for raw material extractions while diverting material from landfill or incineration outlets. There are currently no universal industry guidelines or standard procedures for the decommissioning process resulting from the lack practical experience in dealing with the removal and disposal of end-of-life blades. For management plans to be developed it is essential to gain an understanding of the end-of-life blade landscape. 

This research introduces a multi-scalar approach for the exploration of the challenges associated with blade decommissioning. The magnitude of the problem is first assessed at a global scale using blade prediction models implemented in previous research. These models determine material quantities based on the blade mass as a function of the turbine rated power. The evaluation and quantification of the global blade material reveals the uncertainties of blade prediction models in time and space, and highlights the need for a high-resolution, country-level decommissioning plan. A novel Geographical Information System (GIS) based framework is introduced to support decision-making for the sustainable management of blade decommissioning. An up-to-date, comprehensive spatial wind farm database and online GIS dashboard are developed specific to blade models and wind farms on the island of Ireland. The spatiotemporal variability of blade material resources and flows are assessed, indicating areas to prioritise for the development of repurposing strategies. The results indicate that approximately 53,400 tonnes of blade material will need to be managed by the end of 2039 on the island of Ireland with the highest densities of material located towards the west and the southwest of the island. The onset of this material is expected to formally begin to accumulate around 2023 with a peak in 2037 indicating the need for urgent management plans. A 3D network analysis model, integrating fuel consumption calculations, is implemented and evaluated to explore the environmental impact of blade transportation. To do this, a 2D network model is converted to 3D by interpolating elevation values from a terrain model. Scenarios are compared for optimising routes based on distance, fuel consumption (eco) or prioritisation of main roads (hierarchy). 

The results indicate that the eco-route minimises fuel consumption however, it is often associated with longer transportation distances. The reverse logistic network design is optimised for improved environmental performance by identifying end-of-life facilities with reference to the spatially distributed blade material. The repurposing of decommissioned wind turbine blades is then investigated at a local scale using a case study scenario based in County Cork. The spatial framework is used to assess the potential demand for repurposed blade material for the provision of infrastructure along a planned greenway route. The wind farm database is queried to locate the optimum blade resource material that coincides with the demand for it. Transportation logistics between the wind farm, remanufacturing site and repurposing locations are determined using a modified 3D network model optimised for reduced environmental impact. Overall, the contribution of the spatial framework supports evidence-based decision-making and enhances the supply chain network for the development and designing of a sustainable repurposing strategy for end-of-life blades.

Thesis embargoed until 31st December 2023
Date of AwardDec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorJennifer McKinley (Supervisor), Conor Graham (Supervisor) & William Megarry (Supervisor)


  • Repurposing
  • circular Economy
  • sustainability
  • GIS
  • decommissioning
  • wind turbine blades
  • eco-routing
  • reverse Logistics
  • decision-making
  • wind farm
  • end-of-life

Cite this