Critical assessment of the scope and practical applicability of circularity indicators for sustainable wind turbine blade life cycle management

Main Presenter:    Marta Diez Viera 

Co-Authors:   Joan Manuel Fernandez Mendoza                                               

The installation of wind turbines (WT) has increased in recent years to support the achievement of the climate neutrality targets worldwide. With a lifetime of 20-25 years, old WTs are reaching their end-of-life and the management of the WT blades (WTBs), in particular, represent today a relevant hot-spot and challenge for the industry due to their technical complexity (composites, heavy weight and large components made of difficult to recycle composite materials).
It is estimated that in 2030, 570 Mt of blade waste will be generated in the European Union (Diez-Cañamero & Mendoza, 2023). Accordingly, several waste management alternatives for WTBs are currently under investigation, such as WTB reuse in other wind farms, repurposing into different products (e.g. furniture and construction products), and recycling, including mechanical, chemical, and thermal solutions (Jensen & Skelton, 2018). Although relevant technical, economic, and environmental aspects of these WTB waste management alternatives has been explored and discussed in the scientific and industrial literature, there is a lack of studies analyzing the scope and applicability of circularity metrics to determine the actual circularity performance (or resource efficiency) and environmental sustainability improvements that could be achieved in practice by deploying one system over the other.
The goal of this conference contribution is to explore the usefulness of circularity metrics to support circularity and sustainability innovation in the WT industry, with a particular focus on WTB life cycle management. Through a systematic literature review, alternative circularity indicators have been defined, and their scope analyzed according to their alignment with RACER criteria, circular economy frameworks developed for the wind industry and general industrial circular economy principle. After this analysis, the circularity indicators that best met the corresponding criteria have been selected and integrated in a process-based WTB life cycle management map (disaggregating all the processes a WTB follow from cradle-to-cradle) to analyse which processes re actually addressed and/or covered by the indicators and which not, and therefore identify the gap. This was supported by an analysis of pros and cons for the calculation of the indicators for decision-support based on data
requirements and the reality of the WT industry and the WTB sector specifically. Consequently, recommendations for the development of practical circularity indicators and studies for the sector are provided.

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