The Federal Government is to invest between $3 million and $6.3 million in a cooperative project to find a way to recycle disused wind turbine blades.
About 90 per cent of an average wind turbine is relatively easy to recycle. The metals in the structural supports and the generator can be smelted down.
But the wind blades cannot. They are made from fibreglass set within an epoxy resin, a resilient combination designed to endure the hardship of constant exposure to stress and harsh environments.
They won’t melt. But they burn.
They’re difficult to shred. And the resultant pulp has only limited use.
This week the AusIndustry Cooperative Research Centre announced a group including RMIT University and Industrial Property Maintenance had won a grant to develop a process involving solvents to break down the composite materials.
The thermoset resins (glues) and glass fibres will be separated for re-use.
A site for the pilot plant is yet to be selected.
The announcement comes after the Clean Energy Council released its “Winding Up” wind turbine recycling report in May.
A wind turbine generally has a design life of 20-30 years. As of this year, 599 turbines in 31 wind farms across Australia are more than 15 years old.
The Department of Industry, Science and Resources expects 30,000 tonnes worth of blades will have reached the end of their useful life in Australia by 2050. Globally, that figure is set to be about 43 million tonnes.
And unless an efficient and effective way to recycle them can be found, they’ll be destined to be burnt or become landfill.
Part of the solution is to extend the recycling process to related industries, such as the building industry, transport, maritime and electrical sectors.
“Wind turbine blade recycling is not yet commercialised or competitive,” says the Clean Energy Council. “There are several current options at varying degrees of maturity, and new innovations being discovered as the industry seeks to find solutions.”
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