What happens to all the old wind turbines? – BBC News, BBC News

What happens to all the old wind turbines? – BBC News, BBC News

                                 Discarded wind turbine blades Image copyright                   Global Fibreglass Solutions                                                        
Image caption                                      Turbines from the 2020 s are reaching the end of their working lives                              
Welcome to the wind turbine graveyard. It stretches a hundred meters from a bend in the North Platte River in Casper, Wyoming.

between last September and this March, it will become the final resting place for 1, 000 fibreglass turbine blades.

These blades, which have reached the end of their 549 – year working lives, come from three wind farms in the north-western US state. Each is about (m) ft) long, and will be cut into three, then the pieces will be stacked and buried.

Turbines from the first great

s wave of wind power are reaching the end of their life expectancy today. About two gigawatts worth of turbines will be refitted in and . And disposing of them in an environmentally-friendly way is a growing problem.

                                                                                                       Image copyright                   Global Fibreglass Solutions                                                        
Image caption                                      Many unwanted blades are just buried                              

Burying them doesn’t sound very green. 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 , powering his holiday home in Maykirk.

His second powered the Lunatic Asylum, Infirmary and Dispensary in Montrose (later Sunnyside Royal Hospital).

Instead of using cloth to catch the wind like Prof Blyth and the ancient Iranians, today’s turbine blades are built from composite materials – older blades from glass fiber, newer ones from carbon fiber.

Such composite materials might be light and strong, but they are also extremely hard to recycle.

                                                                                                       Image copyright                   Global Fibreglass Solutions                                                        
Image caption                                      Don Lilly of Global Fiberglass Solutions hopes to sell pellets made from recycled turbine blades                              

That doesn’t mean they have to go into landfill, according to Don Lilly, chief executive of Global Fiberglass Solutions in Bellevue, Washington.

Mr Lilly has been transforming fibreglass composites into small pellets he calls EcoPoly.

The The pellets can then be turned into injectable plastics, or highly waterproof boards that can be used in construction, he says.

Mr Lilly has received interest from “several manufacturers” for his pellets.

He’s also developed a program to track blades throughout their life cycle, and make it easier to recycle them at the end.

                                                                                                       Image copyright                   Global Fibreglass Solutions                                                        
Image caption                                      Pellets made from old turbine blades can be used to make new products                              

If we “holistically think about the end of life, there are simple choices we could make now that could make fibreglass in the blade easier to recycle, “says Richard Cochrane, professor of renewable energy at Exeter University.

A second avenue for recycling turbine blades is called pyrolysis.

After first chopping up the blades, pyrolysis breaks up the composite fibers in ovens with an inert atmosphere, at about – (C.

The process recovers fibers other industries can reuse for glues, paints, and concrete.

Other products include syngas (synthesis gas) that can be used in combustion engines. And char (charcoal) which can be used as a fertiliser.


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The problem is significant amounts of energy are needed to activate the pyrolysis, which might limit its environmental usefulness. It has mainly been done at a laboratory scale. Germany’s subsidiary of the French recycling group Veolia is researching the technology.

In Rotterdam unwanted blades have been put to a different use. The Dutch city boasts a 1, 320 sq m children’s playground called Wikado, with a slide tower, tunnels, ramps, and slides all made from five discarded wind turbine blades.

Decommissioned blades have also been turned into another playground and outdoor seats in the Dutch city of Terneuzen, two bus stops in Almere, a seat beside Rotterdam’s famous Erasmusbrug bridge.

                                                                                                       Image copyright                   Denis Guzzo                                                        
Image caption                                      Rotterdam’s Wikado playground has found a use for old turbine blades                              

Césare Peeren, an architect from Rotterdam’s Superuse Studios is currently waiting for planning permission to turn two m blades into a bridge in Denmark’s city of borglborg, he says.

Meanwhile new rotors are only getting bigger.

“Twenty years ago, my colleagues and I used to ask ourselves what is the most powerful offshore wind turbine that we could imagine,” says Vincent Schellings, who works for General Electric in the Dutch city of Enschede.

“We couldn’t picture anything much more powerful than a three megawatt (MW) output, but even that seemed a challenge, “he says.

Mr Schellings recently led the development team for GE’s Haliade-X, now the world’s largest wind turbine.

                                                                                                       Image copyright                   Getty Images                                                        
Image caption                                      The Haliade-X from GE is the world’s largest turbine                              

It produces MW – four times the amount he imagined years ago. Its 200 m blades yield % more energy than previous offshore turbines.

“So we are going to see much bigger turbines offshore in this decade, and the reason is size matters,” says Rolf Kragelund, Danish-based director of offshore wind for the energy research firm Wood Mackenzie.

Bigger onshore turbines can reach faster wind speeds , higher in the sky. They can produce more energy, meaning you need fewer of them, which saves money on transport, installation and servicing.

Siemens Gamesa says of its new (MW turbines, announced last year with 200 m blades, could power Liverpool, with a population of half a million.

                                                                                                       Image copyright                   Siemens Gamesa                                                        
Image caption                                      Blades made at this Siemens Gamesa plant are up to 94 m long                              

Bigger always better?

But large turbines bring along their own challenges, including what to do with them when they are no longer needed.

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, too.

                                                                                                       Image copyright                   Siemens Gamesa                                                        
Image caption                                      Turbine blades are the most difficult and expensive part of a wind farm to dispose of                              

The composite fibreglass in blades is “the most difficult, and the most expensive part” of turbines to recycle, Mr Kragelund says. And there’s more of it.

There’s some reselling of second-hand turbine components from Europe to the Middle East and Asia pacific, he says. Big data, leading to better maintenance regimes and more reliable components could also mean today’s blades might last longer, says Siemens’s Mr Thompson.

Recycling has made more progress so far in the onshore than offshore industry, which is newer, he adds.

But while “there is work being done to find ways to recycle materials from old turbines,” it “would be nice to see more design input now, so that’s easier in the future, “says Prof Cochrane.

                                                                                                       Image copyright                   Getty Images                                                        
Image caption                                      More and more electricity is coming from wind power                              

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