The recyclability of our turbines
Currently, the average Vestas wind turbine is 85 percent recyclable. That means at least 85 percent of the weight of the turbine can be fully recycled or re-used. The remaining challenge lies largely in the recycling of wind turbine rotors. These components contain composites that are composed of mainly epoxy resin and glass fiber. While the material is light, strong and highly durable, it is difficult to recycle cost-efficiently and without leaving a higher carbon footprint than using virgin raw materials.
We are working actively in the development of composite recycling technologies to achieve our goal of zero-waste wind turbines by 2040.
By ‘zero waste’, we mean preventing all waste and developing a circular economy for all materials, including the carbon cycle. A goal rather than a hard target, through circularity we aim to reuse, repair, remanufacture or recycle, without recourse to incineration or landfilling.
This process encompasses all our own operations as well as our direct suppliers, covering design and procurement, production, construction, service and sales, and end-of-life solutions.
The Vestas Circularity Roadmap
Introduction to the Circularity Roadmap
In October 2021, we launched a comprehensive set of commitments to be implemented across the value chain to accelerate our journey to reach zero-waste turbines by 2040. By that Vestas is setting a new benchmark for circularity and waste reduction within the wind industry, as the first wind industry leader to implement such an ambitious and holistic circularity approach. The roadmap outlines circularity pathways for Vestas’ entire value chain by setting new targets across three key areas: design, operations and material recovery and ensures that Vestas can continue to offer competitive and differentiated solutions, that provide business-case certainty for customers in an evolving global energy market environment.
Design for Circularity
To design out production waste, our first target is to increase our material efficiency by 90% by 2030. Our initial focus will be on blade manufacturing, which is the largest category of internal waste within Vestas. This will be accomplished by raising awareness on waste within our factories, optimising our blade design and production to create less waste, sourcing more efficient manufacturing kits, and including circularity metrics in our key performance indicators. Already, we are working on comprehensive waste mapping, waste value optimization, and digitalization of waste handling.
Blade and Turbine Recyclability
We are significantly accelerating our ambition around blade recyclability. By 2030, we are committing to create a rotor that can be 100% recycled, while avoiding downcycling of the blade materials as much possible, so that they will be valuable to recover use in the creation of new wind turbines or similar objects. With this target, we are pushing the boundaries of circularity in our industry and committing to create the first truly circular blade. Beyond blade recyclability, we are working to integrate recyclability requirements for the full turbine and are investigating new recycling pathways for difficult to recycle materials.
Overall, we are targeting a 50% decrease in the waste intensity of our supply chain by 2030. Our approach for supply chain waste reduction is similar to our approach for reducing the carbon intensity of our supply chain. Vestas strategic suppliers are asked to report on their waste generation, set waste reduction targets for their own operations, and then asked to set waste reduction targets for their own suppliers.
Repair and Refurbishment
Across operations, we are committing to expand efforts to refurbish and reuse turbine components, whilst regionalizing our repair and refurbishment infrastructure where possible. By refurbishing we can reuse up to 70% of materials of the old part. This leads to that a refurbished component at Vestas saves on average 45% of CO2 compared to a new part even after accounting for transportation to and from a repair and refurbishment facility.
While the major components of Vestas turbines are largely refurbished and reutilized already, the roadmap commits Vestas to achieve a 55 percent total refurbished component utilization by 2030 and 75 percent by 2040, in large part by creating new repair loops for minor components. This will lead to further waste reduction, while cutting carbon emissions and driving local job creation.
Ceasing Landfilling and Incineration; Expanding Recycling
Within material recovery, we are committing to reduce the amount of manufacturing waste ending up in landfill to less than 1% (from 25% today), waste incinerated to less than 1% (from 12% today), and waste incinerated with energy recover to less than 5% (from 11% today), all by 2030. As most of our internal waste in centralized in manufacturing facilities, these targets go hand-in-hand with improving our material efficiency. But we are not only focusing on our manufacturing waste.
All our functional areas, including manufacturing, construction, and service will begin by mapping out their waste streams and identifying priority projects to move away from landfilling as quickly as possible, with the majority of landfill reductions planned to occur before 2025. As we decrease landfilling and incineration, we will also increase our recycling rate to more than 94% recycled by 2030. This marks a significant increase from 52% of materials being recycled today.
Implementation and Governance
In line with our overall sustainability strategy, Sustainability in everything we do, the circularity roadmap will be entrenched throughout our organisation, from our engineers designing new turbines, to our factories manufacturing components, to our service technicians working around the globe and in our full supply chain. Nearly every functional area within Vestas will have a part to play in achieving our circularity ambitions. Internally, the targets outline above have been agreed between the Global Sustainability team and respective functional areas. Interim yearly targets will be established and implemented through various internal mechanisms.
Externally, governance around circularity is still relatively immature. As part of the roadmap, we are planning to engage with NGO’s, governments, and competitors in the creation of a shared circularity governance to increase transparency and comparability between companies.
Our blade recycling initiatives
Two main blade recycling initiatives
At Vestas, we’re now on full speed to achieve our goal of zero-waste turbines by 2040 as we concentrate our efforts on two major initiatives, DecomBlades and CETEC. Each of the two initiatives is working with different technologies fulfilling different purposes, which ultimately will supplement each other. In brief, DecomBlades is addressing recycling of existing blades while CETEC is developing a new resin technology for future blades in a circular economy.
In the short- to mid-term, it is important to further scale and mature technologies in projects such as DecomBlades to ensure that blades are diverted from landfills. In contrast, CETEC can contribute to circular epoxy value chains, where the material properties of epoxy can be maintained so that recycled materials can be reused in the production of new blades. You can read more about each initiative below.
Many of the fist wind turbines installed will be reaching their end of life soon, resulting in large quantities of turbine blades that need to be recycled. To ensure the recycling of decommissioned wind turbine blades at a scale, Vestas takes part in the DecomBlades initiative, which seeks to provide for the commercialisation of sustainable techniques for recycling wind turbine blades. The DecomBlades initiative, launched in January 2021 and is a consortium of ten project partners that was awarded funding for a large, cross-sector wind turbine blade recycling project.
Together, these partners represent the value chain required to establish a recycling industry for composite materials – from supply, to processing, to implementation.
The three-year project focuses on three specific processes: shredding of wind turbine blades such that the material can be reused in different products and processes; use of shredded blade material in cement production; and finally, a method to separate the composite material under high temperatures, also known as pyrolysis.
The DecomBlades consortium leverages the expertise of partners along the full wind energy value chain and is optimally suited to tackle the important challenge of scaling the value chain for recycling of blades build on existing composite technologies.
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The CETEC initiative (Circular Economy for Thermosets Epoxy Composites) will be an integral part of our journey to zero-waste wind turbines. The three-year project that builds on the DreamWind initiative not only aims to increase the blade recyclability but also strives for full circularity by enabling to feed recycled materials of old blades back into the production of new blades.
The novel technology behind CETEC’s proposed circularity pathway focusses on disassembling blade composites into fibre and epoxy. Then, in a process known as ‘chemcycling’, the epoxy is further broken down into its base components which are identical to the virgin epoxy basic constituents.
These recycled epoxy materials can be reintroduced into the manufacturing of new turbine blades.
Consequently, the CETEC technology will support a fully circular wind turbine value chain once matured. As we are the sole wind OEM in this project, Vestas will lead the industry toward implementation of a circular economy, enabling a significant reduction of our shared environmental footprint.