One company, Vestas, is paving the way for carbon neutrality. Vestas has promised a technological advancement to revolutionize the green energy market as we know it – wind turbine recycling.
With the surge of renewable energy comes an increase of new obstacles to cross and barriers that must be broken. In many cases, since renewable energy isn’t as mainstream as fossil fuels, many barriers will arise that engineers and scientists aren’t even aware of yet. When renewable energy does become more common, we will start to see these barriers show themselves, and only then will we be able to create the technology to overcome them.
Since some renewable energy options have been implemented at higher rates, such as wind and solar energy, their obstacles are beginning to come to light, leaving the opportunity wide open for engineers to design the technology to remediate these limitations.
All About the Wind
With wind energy, there are a few barriers that have drawn some opponents. Cost, after-life disposal, and even birds, just to name a few. Concerning cost, as we saw with solar, the increased implementation of wind energy will decrease the price as it becomes easier to manufacture and companies will have larger profit margins. For birds, the number of birds that fall victim via collateral damage has proven to be far less than the negative outcomes resulting from fossil fuels, making this argument negligible. That brings us to after-life disposal.
Until recently, what happened to the turbine blades, particularly the glass-reinforced polymer composites (GRP) used in them after the turbines were no longer of use, wasn’t something many people even thought about. It wasn’t until wind turbines became more desirable that individuals began to pose this question.
Just last month, a Danish wind turbine manufacturer and distributor, Vestas, partnered with fellow industry leaders to announce a new technological advancement that gives them the ability to fully recycle turbine blades. The process is rather simple but effective. The turbine blades are split in two to reveal the epoxy and fiber located on the inside. Then they are split yet again using a special chemical process that breaks down the materials and makes them easier to recycle. At this point, the technology only can work with wind turbine blades, though the potential to work with cars and airplanes is currently being developed.
This technological advancement comes just in time as more and more wind farms are being implemented worldwide. In the US, the first offshore wind farm was just announced and is expected to be the first of many in the country. In Western Australia, their largest wind farm is expected to open soon. The renewable energy industry is growing and having new technological advancements such as a turbine blade recycling facility is a crucial step along the journey to carbon neutrality.
Analyzing the entire environmental footprint of wind turbines is an imperative step to understanding how sustainable this process truly is. This is done via a life-cycle analysis. Life-cycle analysis is a comprehensive scientific document that gathers information about the manufacturing, life, and end of life stages of a given product. That information is then computed to analyze said product's environmental impact via many different factors such as greenhouse gas emissions, waste, water usage, and energy use.
Fossil fuels have a very high environmental footprint, lending to the constant advocacy to phase them out and replace them with renewable energy. In comparison, wind turbines have a rather low environmental impact, making them a great renewable energy option. With this newer technology allowing the wind turbine blades to be recycled, that environmental impact will decrease more, making wind power even more sustainable than it was prior.
This new advancement has only recently been announced, so we can expect more businesses to develop similar technology in the future. Furthermore, we aren’t aware of the negative outcomes of this technology, if there are any, and only time will tell if this recycling process is as effective as it claims to be.
We are also unaware of further hidden benefits that might arise with this technology ─for example, the previously mentioned potential for both vehicle and airplane recycling. In recent years, the automobile industry has made significant steps in reducing the carbon footprint of a car. If there was a way to recycle it fully at its end of life, that would create a significant shift in the world of green automobiles.
Additionally, the airline industry has felt the pressure to make changes toward lowering its environmental footprint. Some airline companies have taken it upon themselves to implement recycling, waste management techniques, and tinker with more efficient fuel options. With the potential ability to recycle an aircraft after use, it could help lower their carbon footprint immensely and make flying more sustainable than ever.
Regardless, this advancement is a step in the right direction. The competition that has arisen due to renewable energy implementation has yielded an array of new technology and innovation that is sure to have a positive impact on the planet. With more countries adopting wind energy, more recycling plants will need to be implemented to compensate, leading to a domino effect of renewable energy growth and the phasing out of fossil fuels.