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The Sustainability of Wind Energy Systems: The Composite Blades Loophole

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A key component of a wind turbine's life cycle, the decommissioning phase, is only recently being addressed by research and policy on wind energy projects' sustainability. Although end-of-life composite blades constitute minimal waste as compared to annual industrial composite waste, to date no universally accepted solution or standard commercial procedure has been found for the problem of wind blade disposal. This paper examines the US wind blade supply chain as it regards the end-of-life management of composite waste. Based on 40, in depth, semi-structured interviews with North American and European wind energy experts, this paper provides an overview of wind blade manufacturing plants, composite suppliers to the wind energy sector, and blade-design academic research and testing in the US. Regarding the recycling of composite materials this paper offers original data on what legislation and current practice tells us about end-of-life blades. Data shows that all but a few blade manufacturers and/or OEMs have been involved in research or experimental projects regarding composite wind blade recycling over the last 13–14 years. All the projects since 2000–2001 are of European origin. Interview data also shows that important steps have recently been taken in the US as a market is being established for composite recycling across the country and as the composite recycling infrastructure is continually being improved.
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Keywords: COMPOSITE BLADES; DECOMMISSIONING; SUSTAINABILITY; WIND ENERGY

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2016-12-01

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