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A mini-review of end-of-life management of wind turbines: Current practices and closing the circular economy gap

Woo, S.M. and Whale, J.ORCID: 0000-0002-3130-5267 (2022) A mini-review of end-of-life management of wind turbines: Current practices and closing the circular economy gap. Waste Management & Research: The Journal for a Sustainable Circular Economy .

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Renewable energy generation and increased electrification are pivotal to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating climate change. Consequently, global deployment of wind turbines has soared, and the trend is expected to continue. Installed turbines have only recently started reaching the end of their design lives, and waste volumes are projected to escalate rapidly. Approximately 94% of a wind turbine (by mass) is recyclable, but the waste polymer composite blades are most commonly landfilled. This mini-review aims to review current end-of-life (EoL) management practices in the large-scale wind industry for countries with established EoL standards as well as those with less mature regulations. Data on current EoL management practices, initiatives and regulations in industry was sourced primarily from literature reviews and publicly available internet information. Additional insights and perspectives were gained from WindEurope’s EoL Issues and Strategies 2020 seminar and through communication with select individuals from various sectors such as wind energy development and operations, government, industry associations, academia and research organizations. The results show that the decision on EoL options is dictated by the remaining useful life (RUL) of the wind turbines, prevailing policies and electricity prices. The contribution of this article is, firstly, identifying a number of key technical, economic and regulatory questions that must be asked before deciding on the most appropriate EoL option. Secondly, the article identifies factors that impede current EoL management efforts to close the circular economy gap and those that can support sustainable technology deployment. Finally, the article considers the way that countries with a young fleet of wind farms may learn from more experienced nations. There are few proven business cases, and barriers to the profitability and effectiveness of EoL strategies include uncertainty about the assets’ RUL, collection logistics, the size of wind farm operation margins, low waste feedstock and limited markets for recycled products. Designing for circularity, stakeholder collaboration, circular business models and technology-specific regulations can improve EoL sustainability. The research found that wind turbine EoL management is dynamic and complex and needs to consider multiple, often conflicting factors. However, it is necessary and has immense environmental, technical and economic potential as the industry matures and business cases are proven.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Engineering and Energy
Publisher: SAGE Publications
Copyright: © 2022 by International Solid Waste Association
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