Booming wind industry faces its own green dilemma: landfills

  • Siemens launches the first recyclable wind turbine blade
  • Wind groups use blade dumping as a rallying problem
  • Industry calls for a ban on landfills in the EU

BRUSSELS, Sept. 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Wind turbines have become a vital source of green energy around the world, but their manufacturers increasingly face an environmental conundrum: how to recycle them.

The European Union’s share of wind-generated electricity has grown from less than 1% in 2000, when the continent started cutting back on the fossil fuels that heat the planet, to over 16% today.

As the first wave of wind turbines come to the end of their life, tens of thousands of blades are piled up and buried in landfills where they will take centuries to decompose.

Spanish turbine maker Siemens Gamesa this week launched what it called a “game changer” – the first recyclable vanes, which use technology to reuse their carbon and glass fibers in products such as screens. or car parts.

“We have taken an important step in a company that puts environmental protection at the heart of its concerns,” said Andreas Nauen, managing director of Siemens Gamesa, who expects blades to become the standard in the industry. ‘industry.

Europe is the world’s second-largest producer of wind power, accounting for around 30% of global capacity, compared to 39% for China, according to the Global Wind Energy Council, an industry trade association.

DUMP

Wind Europe, a Brussels-based trade association that promotes the use of wind power in Europe, predicts that 52,000 blades per year will need to be phased out by 2030, up from around 1,000 today.

“The public wants to be reassured that wind power is fully sustainable and fully circular,” said WindEurope CEO Giles Dickson, describing the new recyclable blade from Siemens Gamesa as a “significant breakthrough”.

Although wind turbine blades are not particularly toxic, the resulting landfill, if poorly managed, can contribute to dangerous environmental impacts, including pollution of land and waterways.

All forms of energy have some environmental cost, but renewables, almost by definition, cause less damage to the planet, said Martin Gerhardt, head of offshore wind at Siemens Gamesa.

“If you look at the oil wells and the spills or if you consider… the methane leaks, compared to the fossil fuel industries, the wind is the least problem,” he said.

Wind power is one of the cleanest forms of energy, with a carbon footprint 99% less than coal and 75% less than solar, according to a study by Bernstein Research, a research and brokerage based in the United States.

Its emissions come mainly from the production of iron and steel used in turbines and concrete for the foundations of wind turbines.

If these were mitigated through techniques such as carbon capture and storage – where carbon dioxide is buried underground – “you would be able to completely reduce the carbon footprint,” said Deepa Venkateswaran, the author of the study.

CHALLENGE

The growing mountains of waste created by the old blades have become a rallying point for groups opposed to wind turbines, which they also say are noisy and spoil the countryside.

But landfilling will likely remain the preferred disposal option because it is the cheapest, said Eric Waeyenbergh, advocacy manager at Geocycle, a sustainable waste management company.

“If you just throw it in the landfill, that’s the cheapest price you can get when you dismantle the wind turbine. And that’s a problem because there is no obligation to recycle or recover. mandatory, ”he said.

Geocycle and WindEurope are pushing for landfills to be banned in Europe, where only four countries – Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and Finland – have banned the landfill of composite materials, such as paddles. ‘wind turbines.

Geocycle co-operates a cement kiln in Germany, with building giant Lafarge, which is partly fueled by the burning of thousands of tonnes of old wind turbines, which produce less carbon dioxide than fossil fuels.

Recyclable blades can also be ground for use in products such as car mirrors and insulation panels, or heat treated to create materials for roof panels and gutters.

However, industry groups say these techniques are not currently available on a commercial scale or at a price that would make them viable alternatives to landfill.

David Romero Vindel, co-founder of Reciclalia, which cuts and grinds turbine blades for recycling as carbon fiber yarns and fabrics, said a landfill ban would help his business.

“We need the EU to push the industry in this recycling direction,” he said.

Vivian Loonela, spokesperson for the European Commission, said she would review her landfill policies in 2024.

“The recycling of the composite fraction (wind turbine) remains a challenge due to the low value of the recycled product and the relatively low amount of waste (products), which does not stimulate the recycling markets,” she said. declared.

Report by Arthur Neslen. Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org

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