Wind Turbine Blades Using Recycled Carbon Fibers: An Environmental Assessment.
Polymers reinforced with virgin carbon fibers (VCF) are being used to make spar caps of wind turbine (WT) blades and polymers with glass fibers (GF) to make skins of the blade components. Here, we assess the life cycle environmental performance of the hybrid blades with spar caps based on VCF and the shells and shear webs based on RCF (recycled CF) composites (RCF-hybrid). The production of the WT blades and associated reinforced polymers is assumed to occur in Sweden, with their uses and end-of-life management in the European region. The functional unit is equivalent to three blades in an offshore WT with the market incumbent blades solely based on the GF composite or the hybrid option. The RCF-hybrid blades offer 12-89% better environmental performance in nine out of 10 impact categories and 6-26% better in six out of 10 impact categories. The RCF-hybrid blades exhibit optimum environmental performance when the VCF manufacturing facilities are equipped with pollution abatement systems including regenerative thermal oxidizers to reduce ammonia and hydrogen cyanide emissions; spar caps are made using VCF epoxy composites through pultrusion and resin infusion molding, and the blade scrap is mechanically recycled at the end of life. The energy and carbon payback times for the RCF-hybrid blades were found to be 5-13% lower than those of the market incumbents.