A coalition of industry and academic leaders spearheaded by Danish wind turbine manufacturing giant Vestas has developed a new technology it says will be the final technology step towards a fully recyclable wind turbine value chain.
In an effort to foster the adoption of this new technology throughout the wind turbine industry, Vestas announced on Monday the launch of the Circular Economy for Thermosets Epoxy Composites (CETEC) initiative.
It is partly funded by Innovation Fund Denmark (IFD), and involves both industrial and academic leaders including Olin, the world leading producer of Epoxy, the Danish Technological Institute (DTI), and Aarhus University.
“As global commitments to a net-zero future increase, it’s absolutely crucial to ensure the wind industry can scale sustainably, which includes Vestas fulfilling our ambition to produce zero-waste turbines by 2040,” said Allan Korsgaard Poulsen, the head of sustainability and advanced materials at Vestas.
“Leveraging this new technological breakthrough in chemcycling epoxy resin, the CETEC project will be a significant milestone in Vestas’ journey towards achieving this goal, and in enabling a future where landfill is no longer required in blade decommissioning.”
Developed by DreamWind – a research project in collaboration between Aarhus University, Danish Technological Institute, and Vestas – the new technology consists of two-step process in which thermoset composites are disassembled into fibre and epoxy, before being put through a chemcycling process which breaks the epoxy into further base components similar to virgin materials.
The resulting materials from the two-step process can subsequently be reintroduced into the manufacturing of new wind turbine blades.
Already 85-90% recyclable, wind turbine blade material was the remaining problem child of a fully recyclable wind turbine value chain, due to the fact that thermoset composites could not previously be recycled.
“The key characteristic of composite materials is their unique combination of low weight and high strength,” said Simon Frølich, from the Danish Technological Institute.
“This is governed by the strong bonding of two different materials – fibre and epoxy. The dilemma is that this strong bond is also the feature that renders these materials difficult to recycle.
“Therefore, the development of CETEC’s novel technology, enabling disassembly of the composite at end-of-life, is a gamechanger, that will allow us to capture the value represented by each material stream in a new circular value chain.”
The potential commercial value of a fully recyclable value chain could help to expand manufacturing capacity globally, allowing the industry to move into markets where regulation around waste management for manufacturing industries is tightening.
CETEC’s thermoset composite recycling technology will also likely be introduced to other industries that rely on thermoset composite in production – such as the automotive and aviation sectors – but Vestas warned this would only happen once the technology is fully developed.
Joshua S. Hill is a Melbourne-based journalist who has been writing about climate change, clean technology, and electric vehicles for over 15 years. He has been reporting on electric vehicles and clean technologies for Renew Economy and The Driven since 2012. His preferred mode of transport is his feet.