By Lorna Bennet, Project Engineer at ORE Catapult
The offshore wind sector is rapidly expanding in the UK, and this expansion will require a significant increase in the raw materials needed to build the large offshore wind farms of the future. In fact, it is predicted that over 14 million tonnes of materials will be required to meet future buildout projections in Scotland alone.
In addition to this, as the current generation of wind farms come to the end of their lives, their turbines will need to be safely and responsibly decommissioned. With that in mind, it is vital to consider how we can continue to decarbonise the supply chain and reduce our environmental impact.
One way to do this is through the adoption of a circular economy approach, which focuses on remanufacturing, repurposing, and recycling, to increase sustainability and reduce waste.
A circular economy finds ways to keep materials in use for as long as possible, and to retain material value by recovering and recycling them when they reach the end of their operational life.
Wind energy is a sustainable, renewable energy resource, but like all forms of manufacturing, the building and assembly of offshore wind turbines has carbon emissions associated with it. One of the main factors in this is the use of steel, which can account for up to 90% of the total mass and contribute up to 70% of emissions through the manufacturing process. However, by using recycled steel rather than new steel in wind turbines, we can reduce emissions by up to 34%. Additionally, using recycled copper and cast iron can
There is an economic benefit on offer as well. The offshore wind industry in the UK is currently on a trajectory to employ 100,000 people by 2030, and a circular economy linked to offshore wind could create up to 20,000 high-skilled UK jobs. Developing a circular economy also benefits businesses looking to save costs with minimal impact and having sustainability credentials would make them more attractive to stakeholders and investors. Case studies on this can be found in the ‘End of Life Materials Mapping for Offshore Wind in Scotland’ report published in 2022.
Adopting more of a circular economy model would also help to safeguard against material shortages and future supply chain issues. Developing the offshore wind market to meet the UK Government target of 50GW of installed offshore wind by 2030 will take huge quantities of materials, so the use of materials from decommissioned turbines in remanufacturing, refurbishment and recycling will go towards meeting this demand and ensure that waste is minimised.
One key way to decarbonise the UK supply chain in the offshore wind sector is through the remanufacture of components and equipment. Through the disassembly of used products, the repair and refurbishment of components, and the reassembly of the product for use again, we can extend the life of products and reduce the need for raw materials, thus reducing the environmental impact of the offshore wind industry.
Repurposing involves finding new uses for materials and products that would otherwise be discarded. For example, end of life wind turbine blades have been repurposed in large sections as sculptures and bus shelters. This helps to reduce waste and increases the sustainability of the offshore wind industry. Repurposing can also create economic value, as it allows companies to generate revenue from materials that would otherwise be scrapped. Other examples can be found at https://www.re-wind.info/
Around 85% of a wind turbine is potentially recyclable, and ways can be found to make sure wind farms hit that target. This could involve the collection and processing of materials such as steel, copper, critical rare earth materials, and plastic for use in the creation of new products, helping to reduce the demand for raw materials and decrease the industry’s environmental impact. Recycling can also save energy, as it requires less energy to process recycled materials than to extract and process raw materials.
Through remanufacturing, repurposing, and recycling, we can reduce waste and help to minimise the environmental impact of this growing industry. By considering the entire lifecycle of materials and products, from extraction to end of life, we can build a more sustainable and low-carbon future for the UK.
Learn more about ORE Catapult’s impact on the offshore renewable supply chain by visiting the Spotlight Supply Chain campaign page.