Whereas human beings are just reaching adulthood at 20, wind turbines tend to retire at that age. After two decades of service they are either sold on to the second-hand market or dismantled at the end of their useful life. While the tower and nacelle consist of concrete and steel, which are easily recycled, until recently it has been impossible to properly dispose of the rotor blades.
The blades are largely made up of glass-fibre-reinforced plastic (GFRP), which doesn't decompose in landfill sites, and cannot be burned either, as the fine fibres clog up the incinerator filters. So far the disposal of rotor blades hasn't been much of an issue, because the building boom in the wind power industry only started in the early 2000s. But around 2020 the first wind farms will be reaching the end of their useful lives, creating a growing demand for disposal solutions.
neocomp recycles glass-fibre-reinforced carbon
Hans-Dieter Wilcken is already preparing for that time. The managing director of disposal specialist Nehlsen, based in Bremen, set up the company neocomp GmbH, the only facility for glass fibre recycling in Germany. "The Federal Government/Federal States' Working Committee on Waste (LAGA) has awarded our process the status of best available technology – that is a very special accolade for us," he says proudly. Another acknowledgement came in the form of a prestigious environmental award, the GreenTec Award, which the two-year old company received in autumn 2017.
Securing market advantage
"Developing new processes in the waste management industry is very challenging," Wilcken goes on to explain. Competition is fierce, the price war is tough, and the legal entry barriers are high. New processes struggle to prevail over existing ones. According to Wilcken, a greater degree of environmental compatibility could just tip the scales. Manufacturers in the 'green' wind energy sector in particular are increasingly keen on ensuring an eco-friendly supply chain – including the disposal stage.