In an epic case of poor foresight, the “clean, green” wind industry forgot to come up with a plan for what to do with wind turbine blades after they stop working.
Like all things, they get old and stop functioning properly after a while, but the plastic used to make them lasts virtually “forever.”
The industry has found ways to recycle the steel used to build the towers, but not the fiberglass (a type of plastic) used to build the blades of the high-tech windmills.
Now that the first generation of wind turbines has reached the end of their “lives,” tens of thousands of blades the size of Boeing 747 wings are coming down for burial in giant graveyards we call landfills (12,000 a year in the U.S. and Europe alone).
And that’s just a fraction of what’s to come. These dying turbines were built over a decade ago, “when installations were less than a fifth of what they are now,” Bloomberg reports.
That means there will be more than 5 times as many (hundreds of thousands) being retired over the next decade.
Because they are “built to withstand hurricane-force winds, the blades can’t easily be crushed, recycled or repurposed,” Bloomberg notes.
“That’s created an urgent search for alternatives in places that lack wide-open prairies.”
There are only a handful of landfills that accept them in the U.S. in Iowa and South Dakota.
After being cut into three pieces so they can fit on a truck, they are transported thousands of miles to these junk cemeteries and buried in stacks 30-feet deep.
“The wind turbine blade will be there, ultimately, forever,” Bob Cappadona of Veolia Environnement SA told Bloomberg. “Most landfills are considered a dry tomb.”
A Texas startup called Global Fiberglass Solutions has developed a method to break down blades and press them into pellets and fiber boards to be used for flooring and walls.
“We can process 99.9% of a blade and handle about 6,000 to 7,000 blades a year per plant,” said Chief Executive Officer Don Lilly. “When we start to sell to more builders, we can take in a lot more of them. We’re just gearing up.”
Until demand for the company’s product increases, the blades will continue to make the long haul to the landfills in cities that are paid up to $675,000 to store them indefinitely.