DATE: September 10, 2019
SNIP: While most of a turbine can be recycled or find a second life on another wind farm, researchers estimate the U.S. will have more than 720,000 tons of blade material to dispose of over the next 20 years, a figure that doesn’t include newer, taller higher-capacity versions.
There aren’t many options to recycle or trash turbine blades, and what options do exist are expensive.
Ninety percent of a turbine’s parts can be recycled or sold, according to Van Vleet, but the blades, made of a tough but pliable mix of resin and fiberglass — similar to what spaceship parts are made from — are a different story.
“The blades are kind of a dud because they have no value,” he said.
Decommissioned blades are also notoriously difficult and expensive to transport. They can be anywhere from 100 to 300 feet long and need to be cut up onsite before getting trucked away on specialized equipment — which costs money — to the landfill.
Once there, Van Vleet said, the size of the blades can put landfills in a tough spot.
“If you’re a small utility or municipality and all of a sudden hundreds of blades start coming to your landfill, you don’t want to use up your capacity for your local municipal trash for wind turbine blades,” he said, adding that permits for more landfill space add another layer of expenses.
Van Vleet said finding better ways to decommission wind farms will be an uphill battle, but when it comes to confronting the looming waste issue, “it’s something that’s happening, whether we like it or not, so we just as well get in on it.”