Up to 80 % of wind turbines can be recycled, and the recycling efficiency is on the rise due to demand, need, and requirements. More and more countries plan to implement strict requirements regarding the recycling of wind turbines, and the industry is responding with rapid development. For example, up to 82 % of a Vestas V236 turbine can currently be recycled. Within land-based wind turbines, the recycling efficiency is even higher, around 90 %, since the turbine blades are smaller and the tower higher.
Wind turbines are mainly made of steel, which can be effectively recycled. In addition, the methods for producing fossil free steel are developing by leaps and bounds, for example at H2 Green Steel and at Hybrit, which companies are both located in northern Sweden.
A material that is more difficult to recycle is found in the turbine wings. They are made of glass fiber and other composite materials, which are formable, robust and lightweight and therefore well suited for moving parts. These materials are also commonly used in the marine and aviation industries.
Glass fiber and composite materials removed from use are not classified as hazardous, but as problematic waste. But even in this case, technology is making headway. New recycling solutions are being created through transindustrial and transnational collaborations.
As the first company in Finland, Ilmatar has committed to recycling the wings of all of its wind turbines in collaboration with Danish company Stena recycling. At the moment, glass fiber materials are recycled for European cement production as a substitute or a complement to raw cement products. Stena Recycling is actively seeking Finnish and Nordic partners who can utilize glass fiber in their processes. Within the industry, a hot debate is ongoing concerning the sustainability aspects of using glass fiber in the CO2-heavy cement industry. According to the European Composites Industry Association (EuCIA), however, even if 75 % of a raw cement product consists of recycled composite material, carbon emissions are cut by 16 %, which motivates using recycled material within the industry.
Another company that is developmentally way ahead of the game is Siemens Gamesa, which has recently launched a recyclable wind turbine blade that functions both in land-based and offshore wind turbines. According to Siemens Gamesa, the new product is set apart from previous blades by the use of a novel binding agent that makes it easier to unbind composite materials from each other. The blades are installed and piloted this year at the Kaski park off the coast of Germany.
When glass fiber and other composite materials are recycled, the total recycling efficiency for the wind turbine rises up to 90 %. For the blades, the current recycling efficiency is on average 70-90 %. The variation is due to the variation in blade material depending on the blade producer. The glass fibers in the blades may be smartly recycled, while coal fibers and other materials may resist effective recycling.
The more we invest in collaboration and recycling, the more we gain in knowledge and development. To reduce the use of virgin materials and to promote circular solutions are a self-evident part of our responsibility as a company.