Rapid expansion of wind power, besides its various positive impacts on the environment, is a cause for concern since it will generate, as studies show, millions of tons of non-recyclable waste in the future, Antonis Mavropoulos, President of the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA), warned.
Mavropoulos in an opinion posted on his blog said that around 43 million tons of blade waste is expected to be generated worldwide by 2050, out of which, as recent study shows, China will have to manage 40 percent, Europe 25, the United States 16 and the rest of the world 19 percent.
The austere environmental impacts and health risks associated with expanding wind energy have recently received more attention. “Perhaps one of the most underrated negative side effects of building wind turbines is that they don’t last very long (less than 20 years) before they need to be replaced. And their blades aren’t recyclable,” Mavropoulos said.
He warned that the problem of blade disposal is just beginning to emerge as a significant factor for the future as the first wave of early commercial wind turbine installations now approaching their end of life.
Mavropoulos argued that the blades are manufactured from composite materials, which are environmentally problematic at their end-of-life, since there are currently no established industrial recycling routes for them.
“Finding ways to manage the waste from the expected high number of wind turbine blades in need of disposal is crucial to harvest wind energy in a truly sustainable manner,” he said.
The expert said that the industry needs to develop better technologies to make wind turbine blades both environmentally and economically sustainable, such using of bio-derived resins and thermoplastic composites in the manufacturing process of the blades. He added that modular design and reuse potential should also be explored.
“The problem of wind turbine blades highlights a general characteristic of our world. Although there is a mind-shift towards sustainability, and the wind turbines are definitely part of this new way of thinking, even the most advanced industries do not take into consideration the end of life management of their products. The evolution of wind turbines has delivered great results in renewable energy – unfortunately part of those results will be some million tons of waste that can’t be recycled. Renewable yes, sustainable no!” he said.
Mavropoulos concluded that it’s time to expand the Extended Producer Responsibility principle in a way to cover the whole world for the most difficult and hazardous products, and to include all the types of the new waste that are expected to be delivered within next 10-15 years.