Cement Production to Use Old Wind Turbine Blades After GE Inks New Deal

  • The issue of what to do with wind turbine blades when they're no longer needed creates a number of challenges.
  • Blades are made from composite materials, which means they can be difficult to recycle.

GE Renewable Energy and Veolia North America (VNA) have signed a "multi-year agreement" to recycle blades removed from onshore wind turbines in the United States.

In an announcement Tuesday, GE Renewable Energy said the blades would be shredded at a VNA site in Missouri before being "used as a replacement for coal, sand and clay at cement manufacturing facilities across the U.S."

The issue of what to do with wind turbine blades when they're no longer needed has proven to be a headache for the industry. This is because the blades are made from composite materials which are difficult to recycle, which means that many end up as landfill when their service life ends.

"By adding wind turbine blades — which are primarily made of fiberglass — to replace raw materials for cement manufacturing, we are reducing the amount of coal, sand and minerals that are needed to produce the cement," Bob Cappadona, chief operating officer for VNA's Environmental Solutions and Services division, said in a statement issued Tuesday.

Cappadona went on to state that this would ultimately result in "greener cement that can be used for a variety of products." A trial using a GE blade had been completed last year, he added, while over 100 turbine blades had been processed this fall.  

Referencing analysis carried out by Quantis U.S., GE Renewable Energy said blade recycling would allow for a "27% net reduction in CO2 emissions from cement production." For water consumption, this would see a net drop of 13%.

With this week's announcement, GE Renewable Energy becomes the latest major company connected to the wind energy sector to attempt to reduce its environmental footprint.

Back in January, Danish business Vestas said it was aiming to produce "zero-waste" wind turbines by the year 2040.

In an announcement, the wind turbine manufacturer explained its goal would mean operating a value chain that produced no waste materials.

This aim, it added, would be reached through the introduction of a "circular economy approach" in the design, production, service and end-of-life parts of the value chain.

At the time, the Aarhaus-headquartered firm sought to highlight the issue of waste related to turbine blades by citing a 2017 research paper from the University of Cambridge.

According to the paper, waste produced by wind turbine blades could hit an estimated 43.4 million metric tons by the year 2050. The research looked at waste produced by factors such as the manufacturing process, operation and maintenance as well as the end of a blade's life.

While 2050 is some way off, there are challenges in the here and now too, which makes the case for recycling all the more pressing. Industry body WindEurope has said 14,000 wind turbine blades are set to be decommissioned in Europe across the next five years.

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