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Aging wind turbines bound for landfills – ’40 million tonnes of blade waste in landfills’ by 2050 globally

By Christian Cominos

Researchers from the University of South Australia are urging renewable energy companies in the state to come up with an end-of-life plan for their aging wind turbines.

A study led by Professor Peter Majewski indicated that tens of thousands of old turbines could end up in landfill by the end of the decade.

Worldwide, there could be more than 40 million tonnes of blade waste in landfills by 2050.

Wind turbines have life span of 10 to 20 years and are expensive to break down due to their size and the fact they are made from a mixture of composite materials including glass fibre, carbon fibre, polyester and epoxy resins.

Professor Majewski said the turbines could be recycled but it was yet to become a lucrative business.

“The key problem is there is not a lot of money in it, so recyclers don’t have a huge income stream,” he said.

“We need the government to provide incentives for energy companies.”

He said the government needed to encourage recycling or find ways to convince the industry to think about different designs of wind turbines.The local plan

Tilt Renewables, who have been operating the Snowtown Wind Farm since 2008, said they were monitoring decommissioning practices across the country and internationally.

A Tilt spokesperson said its turbines had a recyclability rate of 87.5 per cent.

“Current technologies for wind turbine generator blades require a complex recycling process for recovery due to their materials,” the spokesperson said.

“The purpose is to separate the polymer resin and fibre composites and once they’re separated, the resins are usually used for energy production while the fibre composites can be reused or recycled.”

The spokesperson said Germany had the world’s only industrial-scale factory for reprocessing wind turbine blades and they dealt with up to 60,000 tonnes of blades per year.