GE Renewable Energy announced today that it signed a multi-year agreement with Veolia North America (VNA) to recycle blades removed from its US-based onshore turbines during upgrades and repowering efforts.
Veolia will process the blades for use as a raw material for cement, utilizing a cement kiln co-processing technology. VNA has a history of supplying repurposed engineered materials to the cement industry. Similar recycling processes in Europe have been proven to be effective at a commercial scale.
The agreement stipulates that decommissioned turbine blades will be shredded (see image) at VNA’s processing facility in Missouri and then used as a replacement for coal, sand and clay at cement manufacturing facilities across the US. On average, nearly 90% of the blade material, by weight, will be reused as a repurposed engineered material for cement production, said the companies. More than 65% of the blade weight replaces raw materials that would otherwise be added to the kiln to create the cement, and about 28% of the blade weight provides energy for the chemical reaction that takes place in the kiln.
Anne McEntee, CEO of GE Renewable Energy’s Digital Services business, said “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. VNA’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.”
Wind turbine blades may be replaced through turbine improvement or ‘repowering’ efforts, when specific elements of the turbine are upgraded to improve the efficiency and lifespan of the turbine, without replacing the entire machine. Longer, lighter blades help the turbine to generate more energy every year, providing even more renewable energy to their end customers.
Bob Cappadona, COO for VNA’s Environmental Solutions and Services division, said “By adding wind turbine blades — which are primarily made of fiberglass — to replace raw materials for cement manufacturing, we are reducing the amount of coal, sand and minerals that are needed to produce the cement, ultimately resulting in greener cement that can be used for a variety of products. Last summer we completed a trial using a GE blade, and we were very happy with the results. This fall 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.”
Recycling decommissioned wind turbine blades into cement production will aid the cement industry in its efforts to decarbonize, added GE.