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GE, Veolia Announce Wind Turbine Recycling Program

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

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According to a press release issued last week by transnational company Veolia, the company has signed an agreement with GE Renewable Energy to recycle its onshore wind turbine blades in the United States.

The contract is reportedly the first of tis kind in the U.S. wind turbine industry.

Recycled Turbines

To recycle the wind turbines, Veolia plans to turn the blades into a raw material for use in cement manufacturing, which can be rapidly deployed at scale, not only increased the environmental benefits of the wind industry.

According to GE, the reprocessed blade has a net-positive environmental impact by replacing coal or other raw materials in the cement production process. An environmental impact analysis by Quantis U.S. reports that the recycling project will aid in a 27% reduction in CO2 emissions and a 13% reduction in water consumption.

“Sustainable disposal of composites such as wind turbine blades has been a challenge, not only for the wind turbine industry, but also for aerospace, maritime, automotive and construction industries,” said CEO of GE’s Digital Service Business, Anne McEntee. “Veolia’s unique offering provides the opportunity to scale up and deploy quickly in North America, with minimum disruption to customers and significant benefit to the environment. We look forward to working with them on this effort to create a circular economy for composite materials.”

In turning the blades into a raw material, Veolia reports that it will use a cement kiln coprocessing technology where retired blades—mainly composed of fiberglass—will be shredded at a Veolia plant near St. Louis, Missouri. The resulting materials can then be used to replace coal, sand and clay otherwise used in the manufacturing of cement.

Through this coprocessing solution, more than 90% of the blade will be reused: 65% as raw material in the cement plants, and 28% transformed into energy required for the chemical reaction in the kiln.

“By recycling wind turbine blades for use in cement manufacturing, we reduce the amount of coal, sand and minerals needed and so produce greener cement,” added Bob Cappadona, Chief Operating Officer for Veolia North America’s Environmental Solutions and Services Division. “We have processed more than 100 blades so far and our customers have been very pleased with the product. Wind turbine blade repurposing is another example of Veolia’s commitment to a circular economy and ecological transformation in which sustainability and economic growth go hand in hand.”

A single wind turbine blade weighing seven tons recycled through Veolia’s process enables the cement kiln to avoid consuming nearly five tons of coal, 2.7 tons of silica, 1.9 tons of limestone, and nearly a ton of additional mineral-based raw materials.

The resulting cement has the same properties and performance as cement manufactured using traditional means, meeting all applicable ASTM standards.

Wind Turbine Disposal

At the end of February, the Wyoming House of Representatives passed House Bill 217—which aims to ban the disposal of wind turbines in Wyoming-based landfills—in a 38-21 vote. In addition, the legislation offers alternatives to where discarded turbine blades could be discarded, such as recycling facilities or somewhere the blades can be properly broken down or repurposed.

Although, the legislation was criticized by members of Casper City Council for issues including, but not limited to, the lack of proper recycling facilities within the state and the revenue the Casper Regional Landfill was already receiving for accepting the blades to dispose.

In another related legislation, House Bill 129 allows only the base materials of blades and towers to be buried in abandoned coal mine sites, requiring “the removal of all mechanical, electrical and other materials from the decommissioned wind turbine blades and towers.”

This bill was also passed in a vote of 56-3.


Tagged categories: Business operations; Cement; Emissions; Energy efficiency; Environmental Controls; Fiberglass; NA; North America; Raw materials; Recycled building materials; Wind Farm; Wind Towers

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (12/16/2020, 8:46 AM)

Kind of telling that the Wyoming legislature is super concerned about largely inert turbine blades in landfills, but not about enormous mountains of poorly-contained, toxic coal ash which will leach heavy metals into the groundwater offering over a million times the risk to human and environmental health.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (12/16/2020, 8:47 AM)

Anyway, while I've been reading about pilot scale blade reprocessing for awhile - it's great news that there is a real contract for beneficial use of old blades in making cement.

Comment from Michael Halliwell, (12/17/2020, 12:18 PM)

So...let me see if I understand this essence they are burning the blades in a kiln, claiming that part of the combustion of the blades powers the kiln and then using the remaining ash and debris as part of the cement. Lower quantity of a different raw material going in, sure, but I'm left wondering about what's coming out of the exhaust of the kiln...there's a lot more in those blades than carbon (coal).

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (12/18/2020, 7:51 AM)

Michael, the kiln exhaust will likely be cleaner than a pure coal fueled kiln due to the low concentrations of heavy metals compared to most coal. Just about any hydrocarbon is going to be decomposed to CO2 and H2O, possibly with a bit of NOx (which is controlled and output is mostly from the air needed for combustion) This process is well proven out over decades with tires as the feedstock - the temperatures in a kiln are high and combustion is thorough. Cement kilns are the primary destination for end-of-life tires here in Texas.

Comment from Michael Halliwell, (12/18/2020, 11:14 AM)

Just making sure, Tom. High temp is great for hydrocarbons and hydrocarbons with other stuff in's why they use plasma arc incineration for really nasty stuff like PCBs. My concern is that the composites in turbine blades contain a lot of substances with more than just hydrogen and carbon in them. If the kiln isn't run quite high, there is a potential there to put some really nasty stuff out the exhaust. To use your example, my concern is regarding the pollution from a tire fire vs. a properly designed and monitored incinerator for tires...if it's not done quite right, there are a lot of potential issues in a hurry. The "second life" and "recycling" claims in incinerating the blades also comes across as a bit of "green washing" and had my crap-o-meter set to extra sensitive. ;) I fully agree that coal can contain a lot of heavy metals, depending on the source coal...I've had to deal with it at the clean up of several former power plant sites. Cheers.

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