A Solution For Wind Turbine Blade Recycling
February, 14th 2023
Wind power energy is a green industry prevalent throughout the United States yet recycling used wind turbine blades has become a sizable problem. There are already over 70,000 wind turbines in the U.S. alone.
Stacks of wind turbine blades waiting to be sent to landfill - Image via Bloomberg
This is a big deal, not just because it represents a large source of clean power, but because it sheds light on the darker side of the growth of wind energy, too: how to destroy those giant wind turbine blades?
Wind turbine blades must be rebuilt often — sometimes as frequently as every 10-12 years. The blades break down from flexing to erosion, UV damage, lightning strikes, and recalls due to delamination and cracking. Manufacturers construct the blades using various resources, including fiberglass, carbon fiber, balsa wood, foam, and resin.
The variety of manufacturing materials makes them difficult to repair or reuse. Instead, energy companies leave old wind turbine blades on the ground next to their old towers or send them to landfills, counteracting a large part of this clean energy.
There are some solutions in development to address this growing concern, such as recycling the massive waste products, but it’s still a new concept.
“We’re in the infancy of wind turbine blade recycling,” says Lee Sage, Industrial Sales Specialist at SSI Shredding Systems, Inc. “The problem is the U.S. dove into wind energy, never considering the end of life of those components and where they would go. It was always going to be someone else’s problem.”
Enter Sean Baisden, the owner of Pitbull Blade Demolition, who was tasked to destroy the thousands of wind turbine blades that are decommissioned each year. To keep his costs down, Baisden needed a machine that was capable of shredding the blades while remaining small enough to move from wind farm to wind farm. He reached out to SSI Shredding Systems who went on to design the solution to this growing waste problem.
On-site with an industrial shredder processing wind turbine blades
Dual-Shear® M120 Is Putting Blade Recycling on Autopilot
Due to their unique components and enormous profile, wind turbine blades are extremely difficult to shred. The Dual-Shear M120 has the torque and technology to break down and recycle wind turbine blades. For over two decades, the Dual-Shear M120 has been employed in bulky item reduction for applications like tires, appliances, aluminum, and electronic scrap.
“There are a lot of different aspects that go into working or developing a new application, like a wind turbine blade. This has been three years in the works,” Sage reports, referring to the longer development time to ensure the machine was ready for the task.
SSI was also able to provide the mobility that Pitbull Blade Demolition needed as well.
Creating a mobile shredder can be challenging since it must be within the weight and height constraints set by the Department of Transportation. Nevertheless, moving the shredder to various turbine disposal sites is invaluable to Baisden and his business. Happily, this is one of the reasons SSI was tasked with the job. The mobile shredder has been in SSI’s wheelhouse for decades, so it was no problem for their team of engineers to design the M120 with a mobile retrofit.
The shredder itself is mounted on a 53-foot flatbed trailer and hauled with a diesel-powered vehicle. The shredder rotates at a low speed, uses high-torque hydraulics, and runs on a classic Caterpillar motor. Pre-cut turbine blades are fed into a hopper on top, which pulverizes them into smaller pieces. The waste is then moved up a conveyer belt built with a skid-mount design that empties the shreds into a truck or dumpster.
“An average blade takes about two to three hours to shred,” Baisden says, “and it’s shredded down into sub-four-inch pieces. We then supply these shreds to REGEN Fiber, a new company in Iowa that recycles them for reuse as raw materials in various industries. So, none of the material whatsoever goes to the landfill from the wind turbine [blade].”
REGEN Fiber, owned by Travero, recently launched their patent-pending and truly eco-friendly process for converting shredded turbine blades into reinforcement fiber materials that add strength and durability to concrete and mortar applications such as pavement, slabs-on-grade, and precast products.
Wind turbine blades after shredding, material now ready for recycling
Blazing the Trail to a Sustainable Future With SSI
The Dual-Shear M120 shredder is easy to operate and requires minimal maintenance compared to daily maintenance for most industrial shredders. The unit’s lifespan is practically infinite too, every part is replaceable. Using American-made parts also makes repair time quick and painless.
Industrial shredders are a common way to manage the growing issue of pollution and waste. However, sustainable solutions require quality tools — which is why SSI Shredding Systems doesn’t simply pump out generic industrial shredders.
Nearly all SSI shredders are built to order and can be customized. SSI applies its wide bandwidth of in-house engineering experience and veteran specialists to cater to the needs and vision of each client. From sales to engineering, the company specializes in delivering innovative results to its customers that can only come from hours spent on the phone and in person designing, calibrating, and deploying each shredder.
The story behind the development of wind turbine blade recycling is the perfect example of this commitment in action.
Multiple SSI Dual-Shear® shredders processing plastics.