With an average lifespan of 20-25 years, many of the world’s offshore 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. Around 85-90% of the weight of a wind turbine is already recyclable in theory: the major hurdle to full recyclability is the lack of at-scale recycling for their blades that are made of a composite of resins and fibres.
To combat this industry challenge, a circular economy approach has been proposed as a strategy for end-of-life management of wind turbine infrastructure components and materials. ORE Catapult is working hard on several projects to uncover how circular economy solutions can be applied throughout the life cycle of wind farms.
Under the Circular Economy in the Wind Sector JIP, we have targeted an at-scale demonstration of wind turbine blade recycling in the UK within five years. This is just the first step towards a more advanced circular economy system that designs out waste from the start, bringing in more sustainable materials (such as self-healing blades and cables), lifetime extension of components and techniques such as remanufacturing, reuse and refurbishment of components.
We estimate that by 2050, the global industry will need to decommission as much as 85GW of offshore wind capacity, and 1,200GW of onshore wind capacity. While these figures do not take into account innovation (assuming 25-year lifecycles will continue to be the norm), they provide an idea of the scale of the circular economy opportunity.
Within two years, we will see 16,000 offshore wind blades being decommissioned, and without changes to core materials, that will reach 325,000 by mid-century. This brings us to the golden supply chain opportunity for the next decade: a spin-off circular economy from the wind sector that would create thousands of new jobs.
ORE Catapult offers technology innovation and business growth support to promising UK companies that are looking to leverage this exciting future market.
Published as part of the Energy Transition Alliance between ORE Catapult and the OGTC, the report calls for increased investment and a radical shift in research and development into wind turbine blade recycling. It cites the huge economic opportunities for the UK supply chain from a circular economy approach in offshore wind that could extend the sector’s UK job creation targets by 30%, creating an extra 20,000 jobs. Read it here >
Chris Hill, Operational Performance Director, explores the role a circular economy could play in the offshore wind sector in his latest blog. He suggests a circular economy goes far beyond just recycling as there is the lifetime extension of components (through refurbishment, for example), reuse and remanufacturing, as well as designing out waste and tough-to-recycle materials from the start. Read it here >
Dr Anne Velenturf, Research Impact Fellow in Circular Economy and Offshore Wind at the University of Leeds and leading research for ORE Catapult’s Circular Economy in the Wind Sector programme discusses the opportunities that exist within the wind sector when adopting a circular economy approach. Read it here >
Following on from a circular economy in wind workshop, where Dr Anne Velenturf of the University of Leeds was joined by a panel of our experts to introduce some circular economy initiatives, we’ve written a blog to provide you with some of the highlights and presentations from the workshop. Read it here >
Re-Energise Podcast: Circular Economy in the Offshore Wind Industry
In this episode, we hear from experts who are working on circular economy projects that look to improve best practices and procedures that are currently in place to ensure these green energy producers remain as green in their end of life. Listen here >
Re-Energise Podcast: My Industry, Your Industry – Sustainability
In this episode, we revisit the topic of a circular economy – this time widening the focus to bring in experience and views from other industries. Helping us disentangle topics like composite recycling, the more sustainable materials of the future and lifetime extension of industrial assets are two leading experts in sustainability from the Catapult network. Listen here >
To address the industry challenge of improving the end-of-life sustainability in offshore wind turbines, ORE Catapult has established the Circular Economy for the Wind Sector (CEWS) joint industry 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. CEWS JIP 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. Learn more >
Issues like composite material recycling affects many industries and require cross-sectoral solutions. That is why ORE Catapult is working with the OGTC under the Energy Transition Alliance (ETA). At the end of 2020, we launched a joint Wind Turbine Blade Recycling Project. In the report from its first phase, it has identified the innovation challenges that need to be resolved before blade recycling will become environmentally and financially beneficial. Learn more >
In partnership with the High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult’s National Composites Centre (NCC), and supported by The Crown Estate, OGTC and RenewableUK, we’ve launched the SusWIND project to drive the future sustainability of wind turbine technology.
SusWIND will discover and demonstrate viable ways to recycle composite wind turbine blades, explore the use of sustainable materials and processes in developing composites for blades, and innovate in design to future-proof the turbine blades of tomorrow. This will create a future where composites are a viable, sustainable and low carbon material for use across multiple industries including renewable energy, transportation and infrastructure. Learn more >
Edinburgh-based ACT Blade is adapting its sail modelling technology into modular blades that to improve the sustainability of the blades due to their internal composite structure and high-tech textiles, as opposed to the prevailing fibreglass. As a result, the blades are over 32% lighter than those in use today and can capture more wind, increase energy production and lower costs.
ACT Blade’s disruptive design has the potential to reduce the Levelised Cost of Energy (LCoE) by 8.7% while increasing energy production by 9.7%. The ORE Catapult Research and Disruptive Innovation team worked with engineers from world-leading yacht design specialists SMAR Azure, resulting in the spin-off company focusing on the offshore wind sector. Learn more >
The Wind Blades Research Hub (WBRH) is a £2.3million, five-year research partnership between ORE Catapult and the University of Bristol that aims to help unlock larger, more powerful wind turbines than ever before. The research from the hub is focused on three main technical objectives: to improve blade design, manufacturing and integrity as a gateway to larger blades yielding a lower cost of energy. The work is split between the University and ORE Catapult involving a multidisciplinary team of postgraduate researchers in BCI and engineers from the Blades Research Team at ORE Catapult. Learn more >
In collaboration with the Department for International Trade (DIT) and the University of Leeds, ORE Catapult has established the knowledge transfer project, which aims to begin integrating a circular economy into offshore wind infrastructure design, operation and end-of-use management. It also supports knowledge exchange across low-carbon energy, oil & gas and offshore wind sectors, and prepares the ground for a five-year joint industry partnership on circular economy and wind systems.
This knowledge transfer project looks to raise awareness of the added value of circular economy approaches for offshore wind; develop strategic responses to the forecasted steeply rising levels of criticality of materials on which offshore wind growth is dependent; and identify business opportunities and circular business models to increase the sustainability potential of offshore wind.
Technology innovation and business development support is available through a number of programmes led by ORE Catapult, including the Circular Economy in the Wind Sector JIP.
Contact: CIRCULAR@ore.catapult.org.uk for more information on how these programmes could support your business.