Enva launches wind turbine blade recycling service

Enva launches wind turbine blade recycling service

Recyclable materials are recovered from the giant blades with the residual material that can be used as a replacement for traditional fossil fuels in the manufacture of cement.

New figures from National Grid show that wind is now the UK’s second largest source of electricity supplying 26.8% in 2022 - the first time that wind has supplied over a quarter of our electricity. 

With over 11,000 wind turbines and a total installed capacity of 28 gigawatts (split fairly evenly between onshore and offshore installations) the UK now has the sixth largest capacity of any country in the world.

The rapid growth and resulting scale of wind power is however starting to present some environmental challenges. Many of the first generation of wind turbines are coming to the end of their operational life and will need to be replaced by more modern and efficient turbines. In fact, Enva estimates that around 14,000 wind turbine blades will be decommissioned across Europe by 2023. With a landfill ban being enforced in Europe in 2025. 

Around 85 to 90% of a wind turbine’s total mass can be recycled. Most components such as the foundation, tower and components in the nacelle have established recycling practices. For example, the steel in towers is 100% recyclable, and there is scope for the foundations to be recycled into aggregate for building materials or road construction.

Wind turbine blades are more challenging to recycle due to the composite materials used in their production. While various technologies exist that can be used to recycle blades - these solutions are yet to be widely available and cost competitive.

Following a successful trial at Enva’s facility in Ayrshire, Enva is now rolling out a solution for wind power producers that will see decommissioned turbine blades crushed and shredded to enable the recovery of recyclable materials such as steel. The residual material is then used as a replacement for traditional fossil fuels in EfW (energy from waste) facilities. To aid processing and transportation specialist equipment is used to cut down the blades into three 50 metre lengths prior to them being delivered to Enva’s recycling facility. 

Michelle Scott, Operations Director, Enva says, “Enva is committed to bringing at least one new recycling process to market every year and the opening of our wind turbine blade recycling facility is another tangible example of this innovation and investment. The increased use of alternative energy sources will result in new waste streams which will each require managing in a way that enables us to unlock their circular economy and commercial value.  We look forward to continuing to work with the Wind Sector and other energy companies to help them realise these benefits.”

The UK and Europe is expected to decommission 25,000 tonnes of wind turbine blades a year by 2025 with this figure rising to 52,000 by 2030.