#landfill

Returning wind turbines to Mother Nature

Don’t ask questions. Renewables are there to save the planet. Period. Including wind. That is until decommissioned. In Wyoming, Casper Solid Waste Manager, Cynthia Langston, said that though most turbine blades can be reused, there are some that are simply un-recyclable. So 900 blades are headed for landfill.

Langston said, “These blades are really big, and they take up a lot of airspace, and our unlined area is very, very large, and it’s going to last hundreds of years.”

Fibreglass can be ground down into fine particles. Although there is a lot of work to cut up 80m wind turbine blades to be able to be fed into a grinder.

Blades can be incinerated but fibreglass contains only 25%~30% organic material, so its heat content is low, and its ash content is high. The ash is primarily calcium oxide, which comes from the calcium carbonate, boron, and other oxides in the glass. That heads straight to landfill.

Pyrolysis is the process of chemically decomposing or transforming a material into one or several recoverable substances by heating it to very high temperatures in an oxygen-depleted environment. Pyrolysis is different from incineration, which takes place in an open atmosphere.

Pyrolyzed fibreglass decomposes into three recoverable substances: pyro-gas, pyro-oil, and solid byproduct— all of which can be recycled. In the US, auto tyres are treated this way. However in order to put blades into a pyrolysis reactor, they must be shredded into 2″ pieces (a lot from one 80 metre blade). At about 5000F, the hydrocarbons in the resin decompose into gas. The gas is drawn off and sent through a scrubber, which separates it into pyro-gas and pyro-oil. The pyrogas is very clean and has an energy content similar to natural gas.

In Germany cement maker Holcim is using the polyesters coming from crushed turbine blades for use in cement. Recycling 1000 tonnes of fibreglass material in cement manufacture saves up to 450 tonnes of coal, 200 tonnes of chalk, 200 tonnes of sand and 150 tonnes of aluminium oxide.

Wyoming could theoretically follow the lead of Holcim but presumably, the cost to recycle fibreglass turbines is way more expensive than to bury them.

The dirt on solar panel recycling

According to Forbes, solar panel recycling is a dirty business. Given widespread solar installations around the world, experts predict in two to three decades there will be large scale waste and ecological damage when they’ve hit the used by date. To quote the article,

Were these statements made by the right-wing Heritage Foundation? Koch-funded global warming deniers? The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal?…None of the above. Rather, the quotes come from a senior Chinese solar official, a 40-year veteran of the U.S. solar industry, and research scientists with the German Stuttgart Institute for Photovoltaics.

“…The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in 2016 estimated there was about 250,000 metric tonnes of solar panel waste in the world at the end of that year. IRENA projected that this amount could reach 78 million metric tonnes by 2050…

…“We estimate there are 100,000 pounds of cadmium contained in the 1.8 million panels,” Sean Fogarty of the group told me. “Leaching from broken panels damaged during natural events — hail storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. — and at decommissioning is a big concern.”  

…Chinese and Japanese experts agree. “If a recycling plant carries out every step by the book,” a Chinese expert told The South China Morning Post, “their products can end up being more expensive than new raw materials.

There is an irony when fighting to save the planet. All we’re told is the positive side of renewables being good for the futures of our children and grandchildren. Just goes to show that these panels of virtue have side effects too. There is a sort of belief that solar panels and wind turbines have an infinite life when installed.

Governments are now thinking of pushing recycling costs back on the manufacturers. That would be a great idea. Drive up costs and send more businesses saddled with overproduction closer to bankruptcy.

Australia should go nuclear. If we want cheap, reliable, CO2-free electricity generation it is the only way to go. Yet our politicians fear treading on such ground.

If we go through history Chernobyl and Fukushima were ALL caused by human error. The systems functioned according to spec.

Solar and wind have proved epic failures, not in installation terms, but as reliable energy sources in operation. South Australia and Victoria are beta test cases of weakening the grid yet we wish to pursue a doubling down of this madness.

In Australia, the environment is ranked 4th in terms of election issues behind income growth/cost of living, affordable housing and power prices. At the 2016 election, the environment was ranked 9th. Do we read this as Aussies becoming decidedly more green in the last 3 years or is it they see all the environment policies being championed affecting issues 1-3? It would seem the latter is more plausible. Yet our politicians are reading it the wrong way. What a surprise!