Meet the circular economy pioneers in the wind sector

Published 18 June 2021

ORE Catapult and RenewableUK are holding an all-day virtual conference Circular Economy + Renewable Energy on 29th June, featuring speakers from the Crown Estate, Vestas, LM Wind Power and more. Renewable Parts is one of the SMEs joining the event during the technology showcase.

The offshore wind industry has undergone a phenomenal journey: there was not a single turbine on the planet just 30 years ago, and now offshore wind is set to power every home in the UK. Today, we have 10.4GW installed in our waters (that is enough to power over 18 million homes).

To achieve such a rapid scale-up in capacity, the industry has had to maintain a hard-headed focus on getting as many operational turbines in the water as quickly as possible and as cost-effectively as possible. While this approach has been hugely successful in reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, it has created the challenge of what to do with the turbine components at the end of their service life.

In a recent report, ORE Catapult has outlined a compelling opportunity for UK businesses to provide end-of-life solutions for wind turbines, citing the UK’s leadership position in offshore wind and the potential to extend the government’s UK job creation targets by a third (an extra 20,000 jobs) through a spin-off circular economy.

While few such companies yet exist in the UK, there is one trailblazer, based in Lochgilphead, Argyllshire, that is providing a solution to the colossal output of used wind turbine components through an innovative business model. Founded in 2011 by Ewan Anderson, Renewable Parts refurbishes components from wind turbines to near-original condition, which are then bought by turbine manufacturers and owners and operators to be used once again for clean energy production.

Ewan explains, “Over their typical 25-year lifecycle, wind turbines generate high quantities of used material that is turned to scrap and often goes to landfill. I have worked in the sector since 2004, and I realised that much of this waste is recyclable and that we could start utilising these unserviceable parts. Renewable Parts aims to significantly reduce this level of waste, offering fully warranted refurbished parts to customers at up to 40% below the cost of new.

“This approach reduces costs, which in turn increases returns on investment, but taking this approach is also beneficial to the progression of the entire industry. Refurbishing parts reduces landfill waste, reduces carbon footprints and creates skilled jobs in the industry.”

Through its reconditioning services, Renewable Parts has created a new refurbishment supply chain to enable its customers to think sustainability when maintaining turbines and has offset 130 tonnes of carbon emissions and reduced 70 tonnes of waste and scrap sent to landfill since its refurbishment centre started operations. This incredible impact is set to dramatically increase with plans to double staff numbers this year and to open a new refurbishment centre four times the size of the current base.

To stimulate more companies to enter this arena, the ORE Catapult, the UK’s flagship technology innovation and research centre for offshore renewable energy, is launching a joint industry project that targets ambitious pathways for sustainable decommissioning of wind farms. Circular Economy for the Wind Sector (CEWS) starts with recycling, aiming to demonstrate at-scale wind farm blade recycling within five years. Beyond that, it will drive research and innovation into designing out waste and more advanced circular economy approaches such as lifetime extension, refurbishing, reusing, remanufacturing and repowering old turbines and components.

Renewable Parts is a company that has previously benefited from business development support through ORE Catapult and ETP, an academic research pool that provides support to technology developers through funding academics to work with them on their R&D.

Ewan continues, “We’re now the only business offering this service in the UK and so the demand we’re seeing is growing rapidly. We doubled our headcount in 2020 and we’re set to grow by the same level this year. So far, our work has primarily been in the onshore wind industry but the potential for the same refurbishment services for offshore wind is huge. I honestly believe our services are no longer an innovative ‘add on’, they’re crucial to the success of renewable energy that’s based on a sustainable circular economy.”

You can find out more about how your business can kick-start circular economy activity by visiting our hub or contacting the team in our Circular Economy for the Wind Sector JIP.