GE Renewable Energy has an reached an agreement with Veolia North America to recycle blades removed from its US-based onshore turbines during upgrades and repowering projects.
Veolia will process the blades, which are mainly made of fibreglass, for use as a raw material for cement, using a cement kiln co-processing technology.
Blades that have been removed from turbines will be shredded at Veolia’s processing facility in Missouri and then used as a replacement for coal, sand and clay at cement manufacturing facilities across the US.
Similar recycling processes in Europe have been proven to be effective at a commercial scale.
On average, nearly 90% of the blade material, by weight, will be reused as a repurposed engineered material for cement production.
More than 65% of the blade weight replaces raw materials that would otherwise be added to the kiln to create the cement, and about 28% of the blade weight provides energy for the chemical reaction that takes place in the kiln.
GE Renewable Energy digital services business CEO Anne McEntee said: “Sustainable disposal of composites such as wind turbine blades has been a challenge, not only for the wind turbine industry, but also for aerospace, maritime, automotive and construction industries.
“VNA’s unique offering provides the opportunity to scale up and deploy quickly in North America, with minimum disruption to customers and significant benefit to the environment.
“We look forward to working with them on this effort to create a circular economy for composite materials.”
In mid-2019 Veolia completed a trial using a GE blade and has processed more than 100 blades so far.
An environmental impact analysis conducted by Quantis US found that the net effect of blade recycling through cement kiln co-processing is positive in all categories.
Compared to traditional cement manufacturing, blade recycling enables a 27% net reduction in CO₂ emissions from cement production and a 13% net reduced water consumption.
In addition, a single wind turbine blade that weighs 7 US tonnes recycled through this process enables the cement kiln to avoid consuming nearly 5 tonnes of coal, 2.7 tonnes of silica, 1.9 tonnes of limestone and nearly a ton of additional mineral-based raw materials.
Largely due to the avoided coal consumption, this type of blade recycling also has a net-positive environmental impact in the categories of human health, ecosystem quality, and resource consumption, Quantis found.