As the life cycle of millions of tons of existing renewable energy equipment is about to end, China is working on solutions to recycle old wind turbines and solar panels and is hoping to have a recycling scheme in place by 2030. At the same time, European companies are developing technologies to fully recycle wind turbines, while battery recycling is projected to become profitable and sustainable by 2035.
Waste from decommissioned wind and solar facilities usually ends up in landfills, and inadequate recycling is one of the arguments often used by renewable energy critics.
Chinese institutions have now announced that new rules and standards on how to dismantle and recycle wind and solar facilities will be drawn up, according to a report by Recharge. They are hoping the system will be “basically mature” by 2030.
The scheme will involve rules for dismantling and recycling wind and solar plants
Many of China’s solar panels and wind turbines were installed in the early 2000s, and the lifecycle of this equipment is usually about 20-25 years. According to projections, the country will need to recycle 1.5 million metric tons of solar panels by 2030, and as much as 20 million tons by 2050, Recharge reported.
China will need to recycle 20 million tons of solar panels by 2050
By 2040, China is expected to have around 250 GW of photovoltaic modules and 280 GW of wind turbines that need decommissioning.
China is the world’s largest user and manufacturer of renewable energy equipment. According to Recharge, it has some 1,161GW of installed capacity. It is estimated that the country’s wind and solar capacity will reach 3,300 GW by 2030.
Wind turbines are 85%-95% recyclable, but the recycling of blades is challenging because they are made of composite materials, according to a report by WindEurope.
European companies have made strides in the recycling of wind turbine blades
In Europe, Danish start-up Continuum Group claims it has developed the technology to fully recycle wind turbine blades, while Spanish company EnergyLOOP plans to install its innovative blade recycling plant as early as 2024.
Also in Denmark, wind turbine manufacturer Vestas has unveiled a chemical process capable of fully recycling existing blades.
At the same time, Siemens Gamesa has installed the world’s first offshore wind turbine with recyclable blades. The installation took place at German energy giant RWE’s Kaskasi offshore wind project in 2022.
The battery recycling market in the EU could grow to EUR 8 billion by 2035
When it comes to batteries, a report by strategy&, part of the PwC network, claims that their recycling is expected to become a profitable and sustainable business by 2035, with some EUR 8 billion in revenue and potential reduction in battery cost.
According to the report, more than EUR 2 billion is expected to be in invested into the EU recycling market by 2030, while handling further market growth through to 2035 will require an additional EUR 7 billion.