Wind turbines are designed to last for about 20-25 years and wind towers can stand for decades. A 2023 report from the Clean Energy Council shows that some Australian wind farms are being built to have a minimum lifespan of 30 years. Once wind turbines reach end-of-life, they are decommissioned and recycled.
Short answer: Wind turbines are about 90% recyclable. Our challenge is finding practical ways to repurpose and recycle the blades at scale or finding a more sustainable material to build the blades with.
Long answer: The tower, gearbox, rotor, bearings, hydraulics and generator, contain a large amount of steel or steel derivatives, as well as copper and aluminium. There is a well-established recycling process for these materials in Australia.
A solution is needed to recycle the blades which are made of materials like glass fibre that are hard to break down, efficiently at scale. In Ireland, Poland and the United States, blades have been repurposed as bridges and research has looked into repurposing blades as electricity poles.
Research is underway to discover how blades can be made from recyclable materials, like softer plastics that can be melted down and recycled. An American company is recycling wind turbine blades into panels, ties and pellets for use in construction. A French recycling company is researching how to recycle the blades for use in cement.