The first wind turbines to be installed on an industrial scale, back in the early 2000s, are gradually reaching their end of life. Many of these turbines will be removed from the network over the coming decade. What becomes of them at the end of their lifecycle? Can they be recycled?
What happens after twenty or thirty years, the average service life of a wind turbine?
Well, in France, they are recycled and the site is remediated! What’s more, a turbine’s end of life is planned before it even begins operating: in facilities that are classified for environmental protection (the French ICPE status), wind turbines are governed by strict regulations. At the start of each project, the future operator has to include an accounting provision proportional to the size of the turbine, a sum that increased in 2020 (€50,000 per turbine plus an extra €10k/MW over 2 MW). For example, a recycling fund of €60,000 is required for a 3 MW wind turbine. N.B. this provision is not exclusive! The operator has to dismantle the turbine and remediate the site, even if their costs are higher than the provision.
Wind turbine components are essentially 100% recyclable. Their different parts are dismantled, sorted and then sent through specialised recovery channels. The concrete used for their foundations is reused on other sites, steel and aluminium are sent to foundries or steelworks, and fibreglass from turbine blades is reused for other products, such as fire hydrants. In Port-La-Nouvelle (Aude), ENGIE decommissioned the first wind farm to be connected to France’s national grid, recycling over 96% of its components.
And that is not all! Driven by French research centre IRT Jules Verne, the ZEBRA project brings together all players in the wind turbine value chain (new materials development, blade manufacturing, operations, and decommissioning), with the aim of launching 100% recyclable wind turbine blades within the next three years.
Adopting an eco-design approach to develop consistently more sustainable renewable energy sources: a meaningful commitment!
The expert’s opinion
Vianney de Lavernée, head of Strategy, CSR & Innovation at ENGIE France Renewables
“Wind turbine blades, which are chiefly made up of composite materials, are the most difficult parts to recycle. The ZEBRA project involves all value chain players in its goal to demonstrate the technical and economic relevance of designing wind turbine blades made from thermoplastic resin. Ultimately, the unprecedented consortium of Arkema, Owens Corning, Canoë, LM Wind Power, ENGIE, IRT Jules Verne and Suez hopes to certify and market the blades. All the players involved in the project are working to provide a reliable solution to this challenge, not only to achieve 100% recyclability but also to improve the entire lifecycle, with a lower carbon footprint during manufacturing and recycling, resulting in a more sustainable blade.”