Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are looking at circular economy strategies to mitigate the impact of wind turbine blades at the end of their useful life.
These strategies are designed to decide what to do with the blades when they are no longer needed, including using new materials that break down more easily, extending their lifespan, and implementing different recycling options. NREL researchers were research into new blade materials that are inherently better recycledthereby integrating solutions at the earliest stages of turbine component design.
“Ideally, we want everything to be recycled,” said Aubrin Cooperman, an engineering analyst at NREL and co-author of a new paper outlining the steps that need to be taken.
Realistically, however, when wind turbines reach the end of their useful, expected 20-year lifespan, some of the massive blades are bound to be discarded. More than 90% of wind turbines in the United States began generating power within the last decade. Approximate 10,000 to 20,000 blades annually Their lifespan is expected to end between 2025 and 2040.
Wind farm owners will increasingly be faced with decisions about what to do with those blades, the researchers noted in the new paper, “Regional representation of end-of-life wind stakeholder behavior and its impact on wind blade circularity.” In addition to Kuperman, Art iScience The paper was co-authored by NREL researchers Julien Walzberg, Liam Watts, Annika Eberle, Alberta Carpenter, and Garvin Heath.
The scientists relied on a computer model that takes into account behavioral factors that can undermine the viability of technical solutions. For example, a lack of trust in a new technology can prevent it from reaching its full market potential. Therefore, the researchers note, it is critical to understand the behavioral aspects of wind energy stakeholders’ decisions. These stakeholders run the gamut from wind farm operators to recycling companies. A modeling tool developed by researchers at NREL and publicly available is A circular economy model based on the wind agent.
The researchers said that in the absence of policy changes or the development of recycling technology, up to 78% of decommissioned blades are expected to end up in landfills, although this would still be a relatively small percentage of the total waste, estimated at 1% nationwide in 2050 Among the factors preventing recycling are high transport costs and subjective norms that prevent people from recycling blades when they see others not doing so. By encouraging enough early adopters, blade recycling would become the norm.
“Transportation costs are a huge factor because the blades themselves are huge,” said Walzberg, the paper’s lead author. “If your recycling facility is far away, it will make it difficult for you to try to recycle.”
Reducing these transportation costs can make a big difference in how old blades are disposed of. Blades are usually made of steel, plastic and composite materials. While many of the materials now commonly used for blades break easily, they can be ground up with the right equipment.
“Crushing the blades makes them smaller and easier to send to the recycling plant,” Walzberg said. “It’s like low-hanging fruit. But you need to be able to grind the blades before transportation.”
Scientists estimate in a new study that even cutting the cost of shredding knives by a third before transport could reduce the cumulative landfill rate below 50%. Another scenario, which involves introducing recycling early so that it becomes the norm, could reduce the number below 10%.
Walzberg said the rules could also help increase recycling, and pointed to laws passed to prevent the incineration of lead-acid batteries from landfills and old rubber tires.
The researchers said future work could examine how increasing the number of wind turbine blade recycling plants could change the results. Meanwhile, other NREL scientists are already working on it using new materials for blades that are designed to improve their recyclability.
The journal article relies on a study published last year Cooperman, who is working with Eberle and another NREL colleague, Eric Lantz. This article shows that “the transition to a circular economy for wind turbine blades may require more profound changes in recycling technologies, blade materials or policies.”
Funding for the research came from the US Department of Energy’s Office of Prospective Production and the Office of Strategic Programs.
Learn more about NREL analytical efforts and studies of art wind energy and developed production.
Granted NRELthe US Department of Energy’s primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development.
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