What happens to all the old wind turbines?

Posted: February 7, 2020 by oldbrew in Big Green, turbines, wind

Recycled wind turbine tower [image credit: inhabitat.com]

Apart from becoming school playground novelty items, what else is there?
One process requires pyrolysis: ‘After first chopping up the blades, pyrolysis breaks up the composite fibres in ovens with an inert atmosphere, at about 450-700C.’
But: ‘The problem is significant amounts of energy are needed to activate the pyrolysis, which might limit its environmental usefulness.’
Indeed, if you’re obsessed with avoiding burning fuels.
Some newer turbine blades are now nearly 100m. long.

– – –
Welcome to the wind turbine graveyard, says BBC News. It stretches a hundred metres from a bend in the North Platte River in Casper, Wyoming.

Between last September and this March, it will become the final resting place for 1,000 fibreglass turbine blades.

These blades, which have reached the end of their 25-year working lives, come from three wind farms in the north-western US state.

Each is about 90m (300ft) long, and will be cut into three, then the pieces will be stacked and buried.

Turbines from the first great 1990s wave of wind power are reaching the end of their life expectancy today. About two gigawatts worth of turbines will be refitted in 2019 and 2020. And disposing of them in an environmentally-friendly way is a growing problem.

Burying them doesn’t sound very green. Can they not be recycled?

Wind power goes as far back at least as 9th Century BC Persia, where sails were used to grind grain and draw up water on the windy Sistan plains.

Scottish professor James Blyth built the first windmill to make electricity in 1887, powering his holiday home in Marykirk.

His second powered the Lunatic Asylum, Infirmary and Dispensary in Montrose (later Sunnyside Royal Hospital).

Instead of using cloth to catch the wind like Prof Blyth and the ancient Iranians, today’s turbine blades are built from composite materials – older blades from glass fibre, newer ones from carbon fibre.

Such composite materials might be light and strong, but they are also extremely hard to recycle.

That doesn’t mean they have to go into landfill, according to Don Lilly, chief executive of Global Fiberglass Solutions in Bellevue, Washington.

Mr Lilly has been transforming fibreglass composites into small pellets he calls EcoPoly.

The pellets can then be turned into injectable plastics, or highly waterproof boards that can be used in construction, he says.

Mr Lilly has received interest from “several manufacturers” for his pellets.

He’s also developed a programme to track blades throughout their life cycle, and make it easier to recycle them at the end.

Full article here.

  1. P.A.Semi says:

    This “children playground” is rather a nice side of the story…

    Yesterday I’ve read another article about wind turbines, it’s even more pesimistic:


    (maybe both this and that articles are contemporary because they’re induced by a same BBC source?)

  2. oldbrew says:

    They’re going to need a lot of school playgrounds… 😐
    – – –
    One wag at PA Semi’s link says: ‘will make great shields when Democrats put us back in the bronze age.’

  3. ivan says:

    Somehow I don’t think it is wise to use those things in kids playgrounds.

    They are retired because the blade surface has deteriorated which means that the very fine fibres are exposed. Imagine what happens when a child slides down those exposed fibres – ouch, doctor!

    Regarding the pellet idea, you note that the guy hasn’t said how much energy is used to make those pellets and if they are going to be used for extrusions then it is going to be a lot.

  4. Graeme No.3 says:

    I think the playground slide is steel from the tower.
    As for those pellets they are nonsense. The polyester or epoxy binding resins are thermoset and NOT suitable for injection or extrusion processes. The only usage I know that would work is as fillers for concrete.

  5. Russell Johnson says:

    I favor NEVER building another government subsidized wind turbine. Instead deposit $2000 in every elementary school child’s bank account for future college expenses.

  6. stpaulchuck says:

    “as fillers for concrete.” They wouldn’t seem to have the compression strength for that. Perhaps in light weight jobs like sidewalks or stoops and stairs for house entry. I’d also wager they are way more expensive per cubic meter than rocks.

  7. Graeme No.3 says:

    The economics are OK as this is rubbish the builders want to dispose of and avoid fees, so near zero cost. As for compressive strength the reinforced thermoset polymers are at least as strong as concrete. Whether the ground-up material is I don’t know, but it would most likely be used in concrete for those applications you list rather than large structural projects.

  8. Wil Pretty says:

    Concrete is energy intensive to recycle and using it as a disposal method for hazardous materials will make its disposal more expensive and is just kicking the can down the road.
    Perhaps the wind turbine bases can become heritage sites, or childrens playgrounds.

  9. oldbrew says:

    When a wind turbine site becomes obsolete, its thousands of tons of energy intensive concrete bases are redundant as newer turbines are bigger and heavier.
    = = =
    The first windmill used for the production of electric power was built in Scotland in July 1887 by Prof James Blyth of Anderson’s College, Glasgow (the precursor of Strathclyde University).[26] Blyth’s 10 metres (33 ft) high, cloth-sailed wind turbine was installed in the garden of his holiday cottage at Marykirk in Kincardineshire and was used to charge accumulators developed by the Frenchman Camille Alphonse Faure, to power the lighting in the cottage,[26] thus making it the first house in the world to have its electric power supplied by wind power.[27] Blyth offered the surplus electric power to the people of Marykirk for lighting the main street, however, they turned down the offer as they thought electric power was “the work of the devil.” Although he later built a wind turbine to supply emergency power to the local Lunatic Asylum, Infirmary and Dispensary of Montrose, the invention never really caught on as the technology was not considered to be economically viable.


    They had their heads screwed on in those days.

  10. Dave Ward says:

    “Somehow I don’t think it is wise to use those things in kids playgrounds”

    Or anywhere NEAR kids playgrounds, if Tornados are likely:

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