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US Fact check: Wind turbine blades can be recycled, but it rarely happens today

05:45  01 december  2021
05:45  01 december  2021 Source:   usatoday.com

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A wind turbine ’s blades can be longer than a Boeing 747 wing, so at the end of their lifespan they can’t just be hauled away. First, you need to saw through the lissome fiberglass using a diamond-encrusted industrial saw to create three pieces small enough to be strapped to a tractor-trailer. The municipal landfill in Casper, Wyoming, is the final resting place of 870 blades whose days making renewable energy have come to end. The severed fragments look like bleached whale bones nestled against one another.

Wind turbine blades are made from relatively cheap abundant materials that are not cost-effective to recycle . Most things can be recycled if you are willing to spend sufficient money and energy to do so, but it is not always worthwhile. Individual turbines are shut down for routine maintenance 2–4 times a year for stuff like lubrication changes, inspection, brake system checks , and replacement of wearable parts. This can result in 2–4 units being shut down at a time in a field of turbines representing a single plant.

The claim: Wind power turbine blades cannot be recycled

As the U.S. continues to build up its wind power infrastructure, a claim is circulating on social media questioning just how green this alternative energy is.

Alongside an image of a bulldozer burying wind turbine blades, the post says: “These blades need to be disposed of and there is presently no way to recyle (sic) them. That’s how green energy works!”

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A Facebook version of the meme from Nov. 5, was shared more than 200 times within 10 days.

But it's not exactly right.

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Wind turbine blades are hard to recycle because they are made of fiberglass and resins. However, there will be a company that will shred them, add more resin and resale as flooring material. I believe their name is Global Fiberglass Solutions. Supposedly, they are not a threat to the ground when dumped. I suppose if you try hard enough you could separate the plastic resins from the fibreglass and then reuse it , but this would be a very expensive and unnecessary process. It is a lot easier to chop them into little bits and use them as filler in road construction. Blades last 30 years so the waste

Around 85% of a modern wind turbine is recyclable . The problem is that wind turbine blades currently aren’t. The blades last around 20 to 25 years, and are typically made of fiberglass or carbon fiber. A wind turbine blade can make for an easy-to-build bike shed, it seems. Credit: Siemens Gamesa. Thus, the Re- Wind project is looking more towards reuse than recycling . Rather then spending energy and time breaking down turbine blades back into reusable raw materials, the project is exploring uses where the blades may be modified and repurposed while remaining largely in their

It is true that decommissioned wind turbine blades are often thrown away in landfills.

The image in the meme shows blades being buried at the Casper Regional Landfill in Wyoming​​​​​​. It was taken by photographer Benjamin Rasmussen and featured in a February 2020 Bloomberg article about blade waste.

However, experts say there are ways to recycle them – though the technology has not been implemented on a large scale.

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USA TODAY reached out to the social media users who shared the claim.

Twitter user @CharlesHawtrey3 acknowledged that blades could potentially be recycled. "Some companies say they are recycling blades, but ... the amount they recycle is minimal," the user told USA TODAY in a direct message.

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Can You Recycle Wind Turbine Blades ? Wind turbines have, over the years, been one of the easily favored materials in different countries. Practically, all nations of the world want a sustainable means of generating electricity for their citizens. You have read above that wind turbine blades are not recyclable and take an extremely long time before they biodegrade. Right now, you are probably wondering if that is all with the wind turbine blades or there could be still be an angle we have not considered.

Wind turbine blades require disposal or recycling when the turbines are decommissioned at the end-of-use stage, or when wind farms are being upgraded in a process known as repowering. Repowering involves keeping the same site and often maintaining or reusing the primary infrastructure for wind These products are certified as being recycled from decommissioned wind turbine blades through radio-frequency identification (RFID) tracking from the blade to the end-product. EcoPoly Pellets can be transformed into a variety of products such as warehouse pallets, flooring material, or parking bollards.

Wind turbine blades can be recycled now, though the practice is not widespread

Wind turbine blades have typically been constructed to last for 20 to 25 years. This means many blades that are being decommissioned now were made a couple decades ago.

At that time, they weren't designed with recycling in mind, Kazem Fayazbakhsh, an assistant professor at Ryerson University, told USA TODAY. They have a chemical composition that makes it difficult to separate them into their constituent components at the end of their service life.

However, there are multiple contemporary examples of successful wind turbine blade recycling.

Fayazbakhsh has published papers documenting his team's success in creating a 3D printing feedstock from recycled windmill blades. He says they have also started a company, Fibrecycle Materials Corp., to commercialize this process.

Global Fiberglass Solutions is a U.S. start-up that is working to scale up its proprietary wind turbine blade recycling technology, CEO Don Lilly told USA TODAY. The company's website advertises diverse recycled products such as building materials and railroad ties.

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Wind turbine . Blade recycling . Report from. Phase 1 of the. diversion of waste materials (that can be reused or. recycled ) from going to incineration or landfill facilities. This could limit the potential for turbine blades , which. predominantly consist of glass fibre reinforced plastics, to enter processes aimed primarily at energy recovery.

Can they not be recycled ? Wind power goes as far back at least as 9th Century BC Persia, where sails were used to grind grain and draw up water on the windy Sistan plains. Scottish professor James Blyth built the first windmill to make electricity in 1887, powering his holiday home in Marykirk. Bigger blades "need bigger factories, bigger vessels, cables, foundations, and handling equipment," says Ray Thompson, global business development head at Spanish-headquartered Siemens Gamesa, one of the world's two largest wind turbine makers. Longer blades can make for bigger recycling headaches

"Windmill blades can be recycled," Karl Englund, CTO of Global Fiberglass Solutions and associate research professor at Washington State University, told USA TODAY. “We have proven that over and over again.”

Englund has published multiple papers documenting his wind turbine blade recycling successes.

a sunset over a body of water: Sept. 10, 2021: An aerial view shows windmills rising out of the fog in a late summer morning near Tureby, Denmark. © MADS CLAUS RASMUSSEN, Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Ima Sept. 10, 2021: An aerial view shows windmills rising out of the fog in a late summer morning near Tureby, Denmark.

Danish company Miljøskærm has successfully commercialized noise barriers made from recycled wind turbine blades, according to the company’s CEO, Jakob W Nielsen.

He said his company's products are currently available for purchase, and they are continuing to expand their business.

“We consider our acoustic insulation and noise barrier products as the first step in the development of a wider product range," he told USA TODAY in an email. "We are currently in the process of product developments with interesting commercial potential.”

The catch here is that while wind turbine blade recycling is technically possible, landfill disposal remains the most cost-efficient and accessible option in many cases.

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“Physical and material scientists can recycle blades now," Eric Lantz, wind analysis manager at National Renewable Energy Laboratory told USA TODAY in an email. "But, broadly speaking, scaling up recycling technologies will require more research and development to maximize the value of the recycled materials and improve the economics of the processes.”

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Englund also pointed to a lack of investor buy-in as a potential obstacle, even after a technology becomes viable at scale.

Wind companies commit to turbine blade recycling

If decommissioned wind turbine blades continue to be thrown out, 2.2 million tons could end up in U.S. landfills by 2050, according to a study led by Aubryn Cooperman, a mechanical engineering researcher at National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

This amount “is non-trivial, but it is also one of many significant sources of potential waste across the economy,” Cooperman told USA TODAY in an email.

As an example, the EPA reports that nearly 27 million tons of plastic were dumped in U.S. landfills in 2018 alone. That amount is more than ten times the amount of windmill blade refuse that may accumulate by 2050.

Nevertheless, the industry is seeking ways to limit this waste.

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European wind industry group WindEurope has called for a Europe-wide ban on the disposal of wind turbine blades in landfills by 2025.

GE Renewable Energy announced an agreement with German company, neowa, to recycle decommissioned blades. neowa recycles wind turbine blades into a product used to replace sand in cement manufacturing, CEO Frank Kroll told USA TODAY in an email.

Swedish utility Vattenfall has reportedly pledged to immediately stop dumping blades in landfills and to recycle all decommissioned blades by 2030. Danish energy company Ørsted also announced a plan to “reuse, recycle or recover all of the wind turbine blades in its global portfolio,” according to a June 2021 press release.

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While traditional turbine blades can currently be recycled through innovative techniques, wind power researchers and wind companies have started creating blades with ease of recycling in mind.

Researchers at National Renewable Energy Laboratory have created a more recyclable blade prototype using a “material technology (that) is actively being researched at a large scale and is likely to be adopted by industry,” Robynne Murray, a mechanical engineering researcher at the laboratory, told USA TODAY in an email.

In September, Spanish renewable energy company Siemens Gamesa, also announced the creation of a new, more easily recycled turbine blade.

Our rating: Missing context

Based on our research, we rate MISSING CONTEXT the claim that wind power turbine blades cannot be recycled, because without additional information it could be misleading. The blades can technically be recycled, and an array of small-scale efforts are doing so. But the practice is not widespread due to the cost of the undertaking and a lack of infrastructure.

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Our fact-check sources:

  • Resources, Conservation, and Recycling, Feb. 1, Wind turbine blade material in the United States: Quantities, costs, and end-of-life options
  • Kazem Fayazbakhsh, Nov. 12, Interview with USA TODAY
  • Fast Company, Sept. 10, This giant wind turbine blade can be recycled
  • CNBC, Sept. 7, Wind turbine giant Siemens Gamesa claims world-first in blade recycling
  • Siemens Gamesa, Sept. 7, Siemens Gamesa pioneers wind circularity: launch of world’s first recyclable wind turbine blade for commercial use offshore
  • Miljøskærm, accessed Nov. 15, Products
  • Jakob Nielsen, Nov. 15, Email exchange with USA TODAY
  • Don Lilly, Nov. 15, Interview with USA TODAY
  • Global Fiberglass Solutions, accessed Nov. 18, Website
  • Reuters, Oct. 12, Sweden's Vattenfall to stop sending wind turbine blades to landfill
  • Ørsted, Feb. 6, Ørsted commits to sustainable recycling of wind turbine blades
  • Reuters, May 16, End of wind power waste? Vestas unveils blade recycling technology
  • Materials, Nov. 27, 2019, Recycled Glass Fiber Composites from Wind Turbine Waste for 3D Printing Feedstock: Effects of Fiber Content and Interface on Mechanical Performance
  • GE Renewable Energy, June 10, GE Renewable Energy announces onshore wind turbine decommissioning and recycling agreement with neowa
  • Bloomberg, Feb. 5, 2020, Wind Turbine Blades Can’t Be Recycled, So They’re Piling Up in Landfills
  • Karl Englund, Nov. 16, Interview with USA TODAY
  • Aubryn Cooperman, Nov. 11-16, Email exchange with USA TODAY
  • Robynne Murray, Nov. 11-16, Email exchange with USA TODAY
  • Eric Lantz, Nov. 16-18, Email exchange with USA TODAY
  • Waste Management, Mar. 2, 2018, Recycled wind turbine blades as a feedstock for second generation composites
  • Waste and Biomass Valorization, Apr. 4, 2019, Extruded Fiber-Reinforced Composites Manufactured from Recycled Wind Turbine Blade Material
  • Carbon Rivers, accessed Nov. 16, Website
  • WindEurope, June 16, Wind industry calls for Europe-wide ban on landfilling turbine blades
  • NREL, Nov. 1, NREL Explores Innovative Manufacturing Approach for Next-Generation Wind Turbine Blades
  • Frank Kroll, Nov. 16-17, Email exchange with USA TODAY
  • EPA, accessed Nov. 17, National Overview: Facts and Figures on Materials, Wastes and Recycling
  • USA TODAY, Feb. 12, Wind energy had a 'banner year' in 2020. Here's what it means for Joe Biden's climate plan
  • Composites Part B: Engineering, July 9, 2019, Recycling of fiberglass wind turbine blades into reinforced filaments for use in Additive Manufacturing
  • WindEurope, accessed Nov. 18, Website
  • neowa, accessed Nov. 18, Website
  • USA TODAY, Feb. 17, Fact check: Frozen wind turbines don't deserve all the blame for Texas blackouts

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Wind turbine blades can be recycled, but it rarely happens today

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usr: 10
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