While about 90% of wind turbines are easily recyclable, their blades are not. They are made from fiberglass bound together with epoxy resin, a material so strong it is incredibly difficult and expensive to break down. Most blades end their lives in landfill or are incinerated. It’s a problem that’s vexed the wind energy industry and provided fodder for those who seek to discredit wind power. But in February, Danish wind company Vestas said it had cracked the problem.
It announced a “breakthrough solution” that would allow wind turbine blades to be recycled without needing to change their design or materials. The company said the “newly discovered chemical technology” breaks down old blades in a liquid to produce high quality materials, which can eventually be used to make new blades, as well as components in other industries. Claire Barlow, a sustainability and materials engineer at Cambridge University, told CNN that if this kind of technology can be scaled up, it “could be a game changer.”
In 2019, an image from Casper Regional Landfill in Wyoming showing piles of long, white blades waiting to be buried went viral, prompting criticism of the environmental credentials of wind power. Wind energy has been growing at a fast pace. It is the world’s leading renewable energy technology behind hydropower, and plays a vital role in helping countries move away from fossil fuel energy, which pumps out planet-heating pollution. But as the first generation of wind turbines start to reach the endof their service lives, while others are replaced early to make way for newer technology – including longer turbine blades that can sweep more wind and generate more energy – the question of what to do with their huge blades becomes more pressing.