Wind Turbine Blade Material in the United States: Quantities, Costs, and End-of-Life Options: Article No. 105439

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Abstract

Wind energy has experienced enormous growth in the past few decades; as a result, there are thousands of wind turbines around the world that will reach the end of their design lifetimes in the coming years. Much of the material in those turbines can be recycled using conventional processes, but the composite material that is the main component of the blades is more challenging to recycle. In the United States, turbine blades may be disposed of in landfills, adding a new solid waste stream to the material already being landfilled. This paper presents a spatially resolved estimate of the mass and volume of wind turbine blade waste in each state by 2050 and compares these amounts to estimates of the remaining landfill capacity by state. We estimate costs for each stage of the disposal process to indicate cost levels for alternatives. Assuming a 20-year turbine lifetime, the cumulative blade waste in 2050 is approximately 2.2 million tons. This value represents approximately 1% of remaining landfill capacity by volume, or 0.2% by mass. We also find that the current cost of disposing of blades in large segments or through grinding is relatively low in comparison to the overall life-cycle cost of energy. Based on these findings, landfill space constraints and disposal costs appear unlikely to motivate a change in waste handling strategies under current policy conditions. Instead, more profound shifts in recycling technologies, blade materials, or policy may be needed to move towards a circular economy for wind turbine blades.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages10
JournalResources, Conservation and Recycling
Volume168
DOIs
StatePublished - 2021

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5000-77944

Keywords

  • circular economy
  • composites
  • recycling
  • wind turbine blades
  • wind turbine waste

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