“Decommissioning blades is both a responsibility and an opportunity“

23 May 2019 - Published by Jonas Nørgård Larsen
For one of the world’s largest manufacturers of wind turbine blades, decommissioning blades is a task and a responsibility that the industry should cope with, and it is also a golden opportunity to create a new growth industry.

LM Wind Power has built more than 215,000 wind turbine blades since 1978:

Blades which have provided the world with renewable energy, sparing the planet from more than 212 million tonnes of CO2 emissions.

With this in mind, it is surprising that LM Wind Power is worried about its carbon footprint, but they do.

“We have the vision to create a greener world, and our products support that. But we must also look inwards and embrace this fully,” says John Korsgaard, senior director of LM Wind Power.

The challenge will become a market
LM Wind Power joined the UN’s Global Compact in 2010 and began to take production in a greener direction with a focus on the blade’s entire lifetime from production to end-of-life.

In 2016, the company initiated a process towards becoming the wind industry’s first carbon-neutral company: A goal which was achieved in 2018. Recycling and resource management has a strong presence both at the head office in Kolding and the 15 factories that LM Wind Power has worldwide.

“In order to achieve sustainable production, we must look at the environmental footprint of every element of our development, operation and decommissioning,” says John Korsgaard:

“Today, our blade design minimises waste in the manufacturing process, we extract materials for production more accurately, and we sort, store and dispose of waste better. We also work with energy improvement and emission reduction,

and the next natural step is decommissioning.

“When an old blade ends up in landfill or is incinerated, it’s a waste of resources,” says John Korsgaard:

“You are also missing out on opportunities. There is a huge market in solving the challenge of the end of wind turbine blades’ lives, and the market will become significantly bigger in the coming years. When looking at the development that wind energy has undergone, it will only be 20–25 years until the turbines must be taken down. The steel can easily be taken care of, but people who efficiently recycle composites will really have a market,” he says.

Big business
Only a small portion of the world’s composites are currently recycled, but it is possible to recycle more, for example, from ships and constructions, from the aerospace industry, and not least, the wind turbine industry.

“There are factories that handle the recycling of composite materials, but many more are needed to handle the quantities we see today and will see in the future. We should do something about this because it will not only solve our challenge regarding recycling wind turbine blades, but it will also solve much greater challenges for other industries, and it has the potential to become big business,” says John Korsgaard.

Industrialised decommissioning
Getting there will require collaboration across the entire sector, and the industry will also be required to assume responsibility. The will is there, John Korsgaard believes:

“Our customers want to address it, and wind farm owners want to have a plan for what to do with their products when they reach the end of their service life. When everyone in the value chain can see the value in addressing it, we will be able to move towards industrialised decommissioning in which we can consider all aspects. Like in the DecomTools project,” he says.

DecomTools is a North Sea collaboration in which some of the world’s first offshore wind-nations collaborate on decommissioning offshore wind:

“It makes sense that those who were first to erect offshore wind turbines are also the first to take them down and together learn to tackle a common challenge. The countries have been common pioneers in creating green energy, so the opportunity to be common pioneers in decommissioning is obvious,” says John Korsgaard.

About DecomTools
Most wind turbines are designed for a service life of 20–25 years. Then they are either decommissioned or refurbished — a field where there is still limited knowledge within offshore wind. In the DecomTools project, which is funded by the EU’s Interreg VB North Sea Programme, 13 European partners, including the Port of Grenaa and Energy Innovation Cluster, devise new, eco-innovative concepts for recycling offshore wind turbines.

Project objectives

  • Reduce the cost of decommissioning by 20%
  • Reduce the environmental footprint of decommissioning by 25%
  • Increase knowledge and expertise in the field among the involved stakeholders from the North Sea Region

Henrik Carstensen, CEO, Port of Grenaa, part of the DecomTools project 
“We see great potential in the decommissioning of offshore wind turbines, and as a port, we are especially focusing on the supply chain and infrastructure required to handle the decommissioned turbines.”

“The Port of Grenaa has a focused strategy of recycling and waste management, which is a perfect match for decommissioning offshore wind turbines. Over time, we have had great in success recycling ships and steel, and we are continuing to do that. However, we can see that many of our companies at the port are also starting to look at the opportunities in recycling glass and carbon fibre. Moreover, decommissioning offshore wind is a business area where we have high expectations.”