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GE aims to produce zero waste blades by 2030

A wind turbine blade manufactured by LM Wind Power arrives at the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult in Blyth, England on August 15, 2019.

Tom White | Getty Images News | Getty Images

GE’s renewable energy unit said on Tuesday it would manufacture zero waste wind turbine blades by 2030, becoming the latest operator in the industry to try to develop more sustainable production processes.

In a statement, GE Renewable Energy said its subsidiary LM Wind Power, based in Denmark, “will reuse, reuse, recycle or recover any excess material from the manufacturing of the blades, abandoning landfill and incineration as solutions. waste management “.

LM Wind Power’s announcement relates only to waste from the manufacturing process and does not cover what happens to the blades at the end of their life.

The company seeks to respond to the latter in several ways. It is part of the DecomBlades consortium, an initiative focused on blade recycling and made up of several major players in the industry.

She is also involved in ZEBRA, or Zero Waste Blade Research project, which focuses on the design and manufacture of fully recyclable wind turbine blades.

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The question of what to do with wind turbine blades when they are no longer needed has become a puzzle for the industry. This is because the composite materials from which the blades are made can prove difficult to recycle, which means that many end up in landfill at the end of their lifespan.

As governments around the world attempt to increase their renewable energy capacity, the number of wind turbines around the world is only expected to grow, which in turn will increase pressure on the industry to find sustainable and manageable solutions for the elimination of the blades.

Against this backdrop, industry body WindEurope has said it wants a ‘Europe-wide landfill ban for decommissioned wind turbine blades by 2025’, while a number of companies have sought to develop their own solutions to meet the challenge.

In September, Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy launched what it claims to be “the world’s first recyclable wind turbine blades ready for commercial use at sea”.

A few months earlier, in June, Danish company Orsted said it would “reuse, recycle or salvage” all turbine blades from its global portfolio of wind farms once decommissioned.

That same month, GE Renewable Energy and cement company Holcim reached an agreement to explore the recycling of wind turbine blades.

And in January 2020, Vestas said it aimed to produce “zero waste” wind turbines by 2040.

All of the above examples can be seen as efforts to develop a so-called circular economy, which the EU has called “a production and consumption model, which involves sharing, renting, reuse, repairing, handing over refurbishment and recycling of existing materials and products for as long as possible. “

Wind power is one of the many industries that are trying to develop approaches related to the idea of ​​a circular economy. This month, Swedish battery company Northvolt said it produced its first battery cell with what it described as “100% recycled nickel, manganese and cobalt.”

In a statement, the company – which has attracted investment from Goldman Sachs and Volkswagen, among others – said the cell’s nickel-manganese-cobalt cathode was produced from metals “recovered through recycling battery waste. “.

Tests showed performance to be comparable to cells made from freshly mined metals, Northvolt said.

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