Circular Economy for the Wind Sector (CEWS)

Published 11 November 2020

With an average lifespan of 20-25 years, many of the world’s wind turbines installed during the 1990s and early 2000s, are now reaching the end of their life expectancy. This raises the question of what happens to them next?  Whilst they are excellent producers of green energy, challenges arise when it comes time for their decommissioning, due to the current lack of planning for disposal, decarbonisation and potential reuse of components. Despite around 80-85% of the weight of a wind turbine being recyclable, turbine blades still represent a significant challenge to the environment, for which the industry is working hard to find a solution.

The Solution

To address this industry challenge, ORE Catapult has established the Circular Economy for the Wind Sector (CEWS) project to investigate new solutions for the bulk recycling of wind turbine blades, and the use of techno-economic analysis to assess their suitability for large-scale redeployment. As part of this project, ORE Catapult aims to lead and facilitate the development of industry best practice and the supporting tools for the detailed understanding of “true” end-of-life potential for pilings, to reduce the environmental and ecological impacts. As well as the reuse, recycling or sustainable disposal of decommissioned offshore wind turbines, CEWS aims to lay the foundations of a new circular economy supply chain for the sector, allowing wind turbine components to be disposed of in the best possible way.

The project will focus on four key areas:

  • Blade Recycling
  • Cost Strategy
  • Monopile Remaining Useful Life (RUL)
  • End of Life Materials Mapping for Offshore Wind (ELMWIND)

Blade Recycling

As of February 2020, there are almost 10,500 operational wind turbines in the UK, with the sector growing year on year. This creates the challenge of what to do with blades that are unsuitable for refurbishment or reuse at the end of the wind farm lifecycle.

Due to a blade’s composite construction, recycling is not always possible. Currently, the most common solution is to dispose of them in landfill. This project will attempt to find new solutions for blade recycling and use techno-economic analysis to assess their suitability for large-scale redeployment.

Cost Strategy

At the point where a lease agreement is made between an Owner/Operator and the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), a bond is created to cover the cost for decommissioning. This process has been adopted from the oil and gas sector but has caused concern with the bond value often falling short of the real decommissioning costs.

As part of this project, ORE Catapult plans to deliver a detailed understanding of decommissioning practices and the costs offshore wind developers will face in the next decades, whilst also highlighting opportunities for cost reduction and development of the supply chain through innovation. Once the cost structure and value is understood, the offshore wind industry can start to focus on driving down key high-value cost areas through innovation and lessons learned from other sectors such as oil and gas, nuclear and other subsea sectors.

Monopile Remaining Useful Life (RUL)

A study undertaken with several key industry partners in 2019 identified a lack of sector-specific standards or accepted best practice available for the practical inspection or assessment of offshore wind sub-structures/monopiles remaining life.

Without a consistent approach, inspections and monitoring are conducted at the discretion of the wind farm owner/operators and are often reactive in response to unplanned issues. This project will deliver the essential groundwork required for the development of an industry-led best practice for offshore wind monopile (and foundation) remaining useful life assessment, and in turn, foster the development of much-needed industry standards to support. By developing an industry-accepted consistent and reliable approach to assessing the remaining useful life of offshore wind monopiles, this project will represent a step-change in the way turbine asset integrity management and lifecycle decisions are made.

End of Life Materials Mapping for Offshore Wind (ELMWIND)

In collaboration with key stakeholders, ORE Catapult will develop knowledge of the wind industry components, their population (current and forecasted), estimated material constituents and their end of life route map for recycling, reuse, refurbishment or disposal strategies. This industry intelligence is envisaged to lead the sector towards making key decisions required for circular economy by enabling effective economical and environmental end of life decisions. It will also support the development of supply chains and technologies by providing realistic, robust data and insights into the materials used by the industry and forecasts of their end of design life strategies.

Precise data on the material make up of wind turbines and their components are often commercially guarded due to sensitivities. However, with suitable anonymity and industry expertise, this project will develop a Component Knowledge database that will capture the key components of the industry and their materials makeup. Subsequently, a materials route map will be developed to identify the possible end of life pathways currently available for the industry materials.

Learn more

For more information about the CEWS project and how to get involved contact the team at

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