The rising popularity of wind farms, both onshore and offshore, leads to a wide variety of environmental and financial benefits for communities. With more wind project installations, the creation of high-paying jobs and reduced greenhouse gas emissions are just a few of the obvious benefits. However, after approximately 20 years, a wind turbine blade begins reaching the end of its design life and must be replaced. The industry’s first installations of wind turbines are rapidly nearing the end of their life span and many are beginning to face the question of how to dispose of the used blades.
The U.S. has established a goal of increasing offshore wind power generation from 42 megawatts to 40 gigawatts by 2050 . In addition, over half of the states in the U.S. have clean energy targets for the same year. This means the industry could soon be at a pivotal point in time. A sudden influx of blade waste could either be repurposed as a benefit to society or the parts could become waste deposited in landfills.
A wind turbine is intended to have a long life span — with the tower built to withstand harsh conditions, whether from high winds or a sudden hailstorm. However, these and other natural weather patterns can lead to significant wear and tear on a blade that may result in a need for replacement before the end of its design life. Often seen as the most cost-effective solution, many aged blades are buried in a landfill but the components take up a lot of room due to the sheer size of one blade. One wind turbine blade is roughly the length of a football field.
There are other innovative options for wind turbine blades. These blades can be recycled and broken down to create material needed for playgrounds, pellets and cement manufacturing. Mostly made up of a composite of resin and fiberglass or polyester and fiberglass, the blades contain minimal hazardous components, which means that they are safe to be reused for construction.
Roofs for residential or commercial buildings can also contain materials from broken down and reused wind turbine blades. These aging blades could be repurposed in the future and become a solution for creating buildings out of affordable materials, greatly benefiting communities.
Additionally, if breaking down wind turbines poses logistical challenges, another creative solution could be to reuse these decommissioned blades in secondary markets. A city in Poland recently tried out this technique, repurposing wind turbine blades to create a bridge for pedestrians and bikers. This solution helps to avoid depositing blades in landfills, while reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that result from new construction projects.
With the renewables industry expanding with both solar panels and wind turbines growing in popularity, now is the time to have a plan in place for replacing aging infrastructure. Using a future-focused mindset today can resolve this challenge for the future, helping these solutions remain environmentally sustainable for years to come
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