GE to produce zero waste wind turbine blades by 2030, company says

GE Renewable Energy announced a plan Tuesday to produce zero waste wind turbine blades by 2030.

The plan will be carried out by LM Wind Power, a GE Renewable Energy subsidiary, which will aim to deliver no excess manufacturing materials and packaging to landfills and incineration without energy recovery.

“Now the focus has evolved from making wind power not only competitive, but also making the industry sustainable,” LM Wind Power CEO Olivier Fontan said in a statement. “We are determined to work with our partners to reduce the carbon footprint of wind turbines; together we can be the example of how an industry transforms its value chain to support the green transition and the critical move to a circular economy.”

Nearly a third of LM Wind Power’s carbon footprint comes from waste disposal. Industry-wide, 20-25% of materials purchased by turbine blade manufacturers do not go into the final product, the company added.

Sara Peach, senior editor of Yale Climate Connections, provided the following context around the carbon footprint of wind turbines, which, while a major concern within the industry, is still much lower than fossil fuel sources of electricity:

Power plants that burn natural gas are responsible for 437 to 758 grams of CO2-equivalent per kilowatt-hour — far more than even the most carbon-intensive wind turbine listed above. Coal-fired power plants fare even more poorly in comparison to wind, with estimates ranging from 675 to 1,689 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour, depending on the exact technology in question.

In June, international onshore and offshore wind energy developer Ørsted committed to achieving a carbon-neutral footprint by 2040. The company promised to reuse, recycle or recover all the wind turbine blades in its global portfolio upon decommissioning.

“We want to help create a world that runs entirely on green energy, and we want to do it in a sustainable way. That includes moving towards more circular models where we reuse resources and save energy, thereby reducing carbon emissions. That is a big challenge, but we look forward to working on this challenge together with our supply chain,” said Mads Nipper, chief executive officer of Ørsted.

Read more: How states can collaborate on offshore wind to meet ambitious goals in the U.S.

According to Ørsted, between 85% and 95% of a wind turbine can be recycled, but recycling of blades remains a challenge, as they are designed to be lightweight, yet durable, making them difficult to break apart. Consequently, most decommissioned blades are landfilled.

Ørsted has committed to not make use of landfilling for decommissioned wind turbine blades but will instead temporarily store the blades until they can be recycled.

In the coming decade, wind turbines will be deployed at an unprecedented pace. GWEC Market Intelligence forecasts that an additional 470 GW of onshore and offshore wind capacity will be installed globally between 2021 and 2025.