The “multi-year contract” refers to blades removed from onshore wind turbines in the United States.
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 on Tuesday, GE Renewable Energy said the blades would be crushed at a VNA facility in Missouri before being “used as a substitute for coal, sand and clay in cement factories in the United States.”
The question of what to do with wind turbine blades when they are no longer needed has proven to be a headache for the industry. This is because the blades are made from composite materials that are difficult to recycle, which means that many end up in landfill at the end of their life.
“By adding wind turbine blades – which are mostly fiberglass – to replace raw materials used in cement production, we are reducing the amount of coal, sand and minerals needed to make the cement,” said Bob Cappadona, chief operating officer of VNA Environmental Solutions and Services Division said in a statement released on Tuesday.
Cappadona went on to say that this would ultimately lead to “greener cement that can be used in a wide variety of products”. An experiment with a GE blade was completed last year, while over 100 turbine blades were processed this fall.
According to a reference analysis by Quantis US, GE Renewable Energy, blade recycling would enable a “net reduction in CO2 emissions from cement production of 27%”. This would mean a net decrease of 13% for water consumption.
With this week’s announcement, GE Renewable Energy will become the youngest major company to join the wind energy sector in an attempt to reduce its environmental footprint.
Back in January, the Danish company Vestas announced that it would produce zero-waste wind turbines by 2040.
In an announcement, the wind turbine manufacturer said its goal is to operate a value chain that does not produce waste.
This goal would be achieved by introducing a “circular economy approach” in the areas of design, production, service and old life in the value chain.
At the time, the Aarhaus-headquartered company was trying to highlight the problem of waste associated with turbine blades, citing a 2017 research paper from the University of Cambridge.
According to the paper, waste generated from wind turbine blades could reach an estimated 43.4 million tons by 2050. The investigation looked at waste generated by factors such as the manufacturing process, operation and maintenance, and the end of the life of a blade.
While 2050 is still a long way off, there are also challenges in the here and now, which makes recycling all the more urgent. According to the WindEurope industry association, 14,000 wind turbine blades are to be decommissioned in Europe over the next five years.