By Sarah Lozanova, Renewable Energy Writer
Some of the first utility-scale wind farms were installed in the early 2000s. Because the design life of a wind turbine is about 20 years, these turbines are reaching the end of their useful lives. Thus, it is time to either decommission or repower them. When these wind power projects were first installed, end-of-life wasn’t really a top concern, but this topic is getting more attention now.
Increasingly, people are thinking more about the decommissioning phase of renewable energy projects, and are wondering if wind power is really as green as it seems. On this point, there is good news.
Wind turbines can be recycled, because the two primary materials are metal and cement, which are recyclable. However, wind turbines are getting bigger, so the volume of material inputs is increasing. It’s therefore critical to have adequate recycling infrastructure in place to process wind turbines.
What are wind turbines made of?
More than 80%t of the mass of wind turbines is made up of recyclable materials such as steel, iron, copper, and aluminum. Although it varies by model, wind turbines are 66%-79% steel, 11%-16% fiberglass, resin, or plastic, 5%-17% iron or cast iron, 1% copper, and 0-2% aluminum by weight, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Most metals are readily recyclable repeatedly and easy to make into new products.
What parts of a wind turbine are recyclable?
There are numerous parts to a wind turbine, and each has different recycling challenges and opportunities.
Wind turbine towers
Wind energy turbines typically consist of a tubular tower made of steel that supports other components, including the gearbox, generator, and blades. They are wider at the base and narrower higher up to save materials.
Because these towers are so tall, they are manufactured into long sections to make them easier to transport. Thus, wind turbine towers are generally assembled on-site from several pieces and are hollow inside to reduce their weight and conserve resources.
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