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Reducing the Environmental Impact of Wind Turbine Blades



Change log


Liu, Pu 


Wind energy, one of the most promising sources of clean energy, has developed rapidly over the last two decades. Wind turbines (WT) are arguably clean during operation, offering minimal pollution and zero CO2 emissions, but significant amounts of energy are used and CO2 emitted during their manufacture, and, furthermore, the turbines are environmentally problematic at end-of-life (EoL), especially the blades. WT blades are mainly made with composite materials comprising thermosetting resin and glass fibre. They are lightweight and strong but problematic to recycle. Large volumes of waste will be generated when these WT blades are decommissioned and environmental concerns have been raised. The main aim of this study is to understand the environmental impact of wind turbine blades and to find solutions to reduce it. A quantitative method is adopted, first evaluating the WT blade waste inventory then calculating its environmental impact, and finally analysing the differences between all possible EoL options in terms of environmental and financial performance.

The results firstly identify the global wind turbine blade waste inventory with detailed generation time and location which could help policy makers to gain an understanding of the size and severity of this problem. Secondly, the outputs indicate where most impact is generated and identify what to prioritise to reduce waste and reduce environmental impact, which is of value to blade manufacturers and other stakeholders. Moreover, this work highlights previous incorrect assumptions and provides findings to build on for future work. Thirdly, ‘optimal’ EoL options for the WT blade waste have been characterized: the current ‘optimal’ EoL option is life extension; mechanical recycling is the current ‘optimal’ recycling option; chemical recycling will be the ‘optimal’ option for the future. Future research is suggested as aiming to improve the performance of recycled fibre or to reduce the energy consumption of recycling processes.




Barlow, Claire


Wind Turbine Blades, Enviromental Impact, Composite Recycling Technologies, Waste Management, Wind Turbine


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
This work was supported, in part, by China Scholarship Council (CSC). The author is also grateful to Jesus College, Cambridge for financial support.