Vattenfall recycles old Dutch wind turbine blades

Circular economy

The Netherlands – Vattenfall’s target of recycling all dismantled wind turbine blades by 2030 includes turbine blades from the Dutch wind farm Irene Vorrink, which will be turned into skis, snowboards, and construction materials for solar farms.

The recycling of turbine blades from the Irene Vorrink Wind Farm, according to Gustav Frid, Senior Environment & Sustainability Specialist at Vattenfall, is primarily a pilot project.

“First of all, we want to learn from this process and see which companies are suitable to help us recycle the wind blades. We believe that there is no single solution for this, but rather a number of different ones. Because Vattenfall has proven to be a leader in sustainability in recent years, many companies want to collaborate with us, and they are contacting us.”

Snowboards and skis

Wind turbine blades’ complex structure necessitates specialized recycling.

“The blades consist not only of resin and glass or carbon fibre, but also of balsa wood, PVC or PET foam, other polymers and metals. It is almost impossible to separate the individual components, so they have to be processed together. This complicates the recycling process and the possibility of recovering residual value from the blades,” says Marcin Rusin co-owner at Gjenkraft in Norway.

Gjenkraft recovers glass and carbon fibers depending on the type of blade.

Solar and agriculture

According to Professor Gregor Luthe, based on the findings of the EU project LIFE Carbongreen, which investigated the recycling of carbon fiber composites, “wind turbine blades are designed to withstand extreme loads, so they consist of strong fibres of glass and carbon that are bound by duro-plastics.” We were able to create new duro-plastics that can be used in the construction materials of agrophotovoltaics, which are solar panels that are placed above or among agricultural products. We use our material to replace the steel and aluminum used in the construction. Both of these raw materials require a lot of energy to produce and are currently in short supply due to the war in Ukraine.”

Professor Luthe’s company, BillionPeople, accomplishes many goals with this method in one fell swoop: 100 percent recycling of wind blades, CO2 savings, building solar parks with recycled materials, producing renewable energy, increasing yields, and improving the climate.

Drone inspections

Wind turbine blades, according to René de Moor, an aircraft systems teacher at MBO College Airport, do not have to be completely dismantled in order to have a second life.

“We want to offer our students an even broader field of knowledge and that’s how we came to wind turbines, because wind blades naturally have a lot to do with aircraft technology. We contacted Vattenfall and told them we wanted to train people for them. When asked what we needed for that, our answer was: knowledge, apprenticeships, and equipment. We had already bought a small nacelle simulator and we were still looking for other parts of the wind turbine.” Before the MBO college got hold of two wind turbine blades from Wind farm Irene Vorrink, they had to provide a good motivation, but that was no problem. “One of the blades will be placed at MBO College Airport, where we will look specifically at the construction of the wind blade. How is it put together and how does it work exactly? The second wind blade will go to the Drone Engineering & Operations course in Valkenburg. They will use drones to inspect the wind blade. The drone can also attach itself to the blade and conduct minor repairs with a spay,” says an enthusiastic René de Moor.

Gustav Frid from Vattenfall is excited about the different parties Vattenfall is now working with: “Both recycling and reuse play a key role in the development of sustainable industrial solutions.”