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Home ยป Windmills may contribute more than 40 million tons of blade waste by 2050: report

Windmills may contribute more than 40 million tons of blade waste by 2050: report

Windmills may contribute more than 40 million tons of blade waste by 2050: report

Researchers from the University of South Australia are urging renewable energy companies in the state to come up with an end-of-life plan for their ageing wind turbines.

Wind turbines waste

A study led by Professor Peter Majewski indicated that tens of thousands of old turbines could end up in landfill by the end of the decade. Worldwide, there could be more than 40 million tons of blade waste in landfill by 2050.

“The same characteristics that make these blades cost-effective and reliable for use in commercial wind turbines make them very difficult to profitably recycle,” says Professor Majewski.

“Because it’s so expensive to recycle and the recovered materials are worth so little, it’s unrealistic to expect a market-based recycling solution to emerge, so policymakers need to step in now and plan what we’re going to do with all these blades that are going to come off for years to come.”

Dumped in landfills

In many parts of the world, wind turbine blades are currently dumped in landfills, but this practice has been banned in some European countries, with estimates suggesting there will be more than 40 million tonnes of blade waste worldwide by 2050, alternative solutions are urgently needed to be searched.

Wind turbine blade waste. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Professor Majewski says that while there is very limited potential for the reuse of the sheets in niche construction settings and a small market for some of the reclaimed materials, the costs of disposing of the sheets will likely need to be factored in a sustainable way in its production and operating costs.

Cost of recycling blades

“Our research indicates that the most likely viable option is a product stewardship or extended producer responsibility approach, where the cost of recycling blades is factored into the cost of manufacturing or operating costs,” Majewski added.

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“So, building on the experience of similar programs for other products, either the manufacturer needs to take responsibility for what to do with blades at end of life, or wind farm operators need to provide end-of-life solutions as part of the planning approval process for its business operations.

While self-regulation may offer a solution, Professor Majewski believes that the long lifespan and high cost of blades mean official frameworks are required to ensure the transition of responsibility when necessary.

“If manufacturers go out of business or wind farms go bankrupt, we need to make sure processes are still in place so that turbine blades are properly disposed of,” he says.

Professor Majewski says consumers are likely to eventually bear some of the cost of end-of-life through energy tariffs but believes market competition between energy producers should help minimize the impact of that on the public.

“This will have some cost to everyone involved, but we have to accept it as part of the cost of producing power in this way,” says Professor Majewski. “Without such solutions, power options like wind and solar may turn out to be no more sustainable than the old technologies they are intended to replace.”

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