When discussing the topic of energy (“renewable energy,” “green energy,” “energy reform,” etc.), it is important to remember that all current forms of energy production have pros and cons. Some are better than others. Everything produced to create energy, takes energy to build. Everything built and used to build has a shelf life. Whether it’s the land of a mine, oil from the earth, a turbine, a pump, or a pipe, it will expire. Even ethical employment needs to be considered when discussing pros and cons of an energy source. Consideration of the risk/benefit for employees and how this will affect their lives and health long term are just as important when debating pros and cons of energy sources. All of these factors and many more should be considered when energy producers implement business strategies.
For example, one of the obvious pros for the wind industry is that wind energy is renewable and readily available. Another example is that technicians are outside in the fresh air, using their bodies instead of sitting idle at a desk. On the flip side, with every industry, there are obstacles to be perfected. One of the problems in wind is figuring out what do with turbines and blades once they have expired.
According to Bloomberg Green, 8,000 turbines will be replaced per year in the U.S. through 2024.
“Wind power is carbon-free and about 85% of turbine components, including steel, copper wire, electronics and gearing can be recycled or reused. But the fiberglass blades remain difficult to dispose of. With some as long as a football field, big rigs can only carry one at a time, making transportation costs prohibitive for long-distance hauls. Scientists are trying to find better ways to separate resins from fibers or to give small chunks new life as pellets or boards.”
Companies like Rope Partner, try to extend the life of a blade by hiring technicians who have specific experience with “fiberglass repair.” But this can only go so far. That’s why projects worldwide are already underway to find ideas to reuse these blades.
Irish and American universities have partnered together on project Re-Wind. These universities are looking for ways to use blades for civil engineering purposes like powerline structures, towers, bridges, or roofs for emergency housing.
In Europe, Cefic, EUCIA, and Wind Europe are also collaborating to come up with ways to create better materials to make less expensive, longer lasting blades out of reusable materials that will last longer. In a Wind Europe press release, EUCIA President Roberto Frassine, says:
“The wind energy sector has always been at the forefront of using composites as they are instrumental to sustainable energy generation. With this collaboration we hope to set a great industry standard that ultimately will also help customers in other industries like marine and building & infrastructure.”
Other examples are Vestas’ announcement in January 2020 to produce zero-waste turbines by 2040. Or Veolia and GE’s partnership to create cement from unusable blades. According to this statement on Veolia’s website:
“On December 8, GE Renewable Energy signed an agreement with Veolia to recycle its onshore wind turbine blades in the United States. This recycling contract, the first of its kind in the U.S. wind turbine industry, will turn the blades into a raw material for use in cement manufacturing. The result: a 27% reduction in CO2 emissions. This solution, which can be rapidly deployed at scale, increases the environmental benefits of the wind industry.”
In 2019, Global Fiberglass Solutions (GFS) became the first U.S. company to sell a product containing recycled turbine blades. The company is located in Texas, and can certify that the product is in fact being recycled by using a product tracker. Once it gets to their warehouse, the fiberglass turbine blades are then chopped up and turned into EcoPoly Pellets and EcoPoly Panels. According to a Market Insider article, GFS has also tested other products like “decking boards, warehouse pallets, parking bollards and much more.” According to the GFS website, “Once GFS processes fiberglass into raw material, we then create versatile, customized products such as composite panels, railroad ties, plastic composites, and beyond. You can order fibers or our EcoPoly pellets in bulk to make your own products.”
What these companies have done, is taken the existing challenge of a downside to wind energy and upcycled it. These materials are equal in cost or cheaper to use than creating brand new products. This creates jobs, nearly eliminates wind energy waste, and lowers the impact on local landfills.