C. Cameron, J. Baxter, M. Creighton
Keywords: Life Cycle Assessment, End of Life, Circular Life Cycle
Summary:The wind industry has grown tremendously over the last two decades and is projected to continue growing over the coming years, with predictions of over 400 GW of generation capacity by 2050. This growth is in part due to the increasing number of turbine installations throughout the United States, and to the ever- increasing size of wind turbine blades. As the blades become longer, the amount of material needed to construct them also increases. However, these materials aren’t designed to last forever, and eventually the wear and tear they experience lead to their decommissioning and disposal. Traditionally in the U.S., wind turbine blades are disposed of in landfills. However, the composite materials they’re constructed from are highly durable and therefore do not readily decompose. Additionally, U.S. landfills have now been filled to more than 50% of their capacity, as of 2023. At the current rate of disposal, some states are projected to reach 100% capacity by or before 2050. Therefore, landfill is not a sustainable disposal option and instead we must find alternative methods. Cement co-processing is one such alternative that has already been widely adopted in many European countries. In this process, alternative materials are inputted to a cement kiln and help to displace the traditional materials used in cement production. Another alternative is pyrolysis, which is already commonly used for biomass conversion into alternative liquid and gaseous fuels, and can be applied to composite materials to likewise convert the polymeric materials into fuels while also enabling recovery of the fiberglass to be remelted and formed into new glass products. I use a life cycle assessment to evaluate the environmental impacts of these alternative options in contrast to the traditional disposal routes and to develop a prediction for the environmental impact we can expect given the throughput of decommissioned wind turbine blades in each of these processes.