September 26, 2023
CAITLIN COOMBES firstname.lastname@example.org @PEIGuardian Caitlin Coombes is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter, a position funded by the federal government.
A lack of research and advancements in recycling green technology may cause issues for PEI wind farms in the future.
With the exception of the blades, turbines are made from steel and iron, meaning construction materials can be reused if damaged or decommissioned.
Unlike the rest of the turbine, the blades must be light enough to spin and are made primarily of fiberglass, wood and resin, which is much harder to recycle.
Scott Harper, the CEO of the Wind Energy Institute of Canada, raised concerns for the recyclability of wind turbines in the future in Canada, citing the lack of options for recycling the blades.
"We wonder as an industry, now that these turbines are aging, and need to come down, is the market going to adapt and find easier ways to take these things down," Harper said in an interview with SaltWire.
According to Harper, large industrial wind farm turbines can have individual blades that measure more than 170 feet, presenting a logistical challenge during the construction and deconstruction processes.
In a statement to SaltWire on Sept. 13, the P.E.I. Energy Corporation stated that damaged blades from their wind farms are often shipped out of province, returned to their manufacturers for repurposing or disposal.
"Most recently, we were able to send damaged blades to P.E.I. Energy Systems' energy from waste facility in Charlottetown. The blades were broken into manageable pieces and were burned as is done with much of P.E.I. waste."
P.E.I. Energy Corporation stated that they have not yet had a utility-scale turbine taken out of operation.
For the disposal manager at Island Waste Management Corporation, Heather Myers, there is no recycling system for the turbine blades, leading to on industrial blade being put through the incinerator.
"They did run into problems incinerating them, because of the fiberglass, they didn't burn properly," Myers said in an interview with SaltWire.
Myers said the pieces of turbine blade did not melt down enough and caused issues with the incinerator's ash system.
Since then, any turbine blades brought into IWMC from residential or industrial sources have been placed in the landfill, however Myers does not believe this is a longterm solution.
One professor at UPEI is conducting research into the future of recycling wind turbines, and ways to reduce costs related to wind turbine construction and repairs.
In 2022, Grant McSorley received a two-year grant from the Climate Challenge Fund to conduct research into wind turbine recycling and has been working with a team of researchers and students at UPEI.
McSorley has worked with WEICAN to research and study its wind turbines to help maximize recoverability for equipment and material recycling.
He will be working on this project for the next year.
"Currently we don't have good recycling techniques for fiberglass or other composite materials," McSorely said.
McSorely explained that materials such as fiberglass typically go through a downcycling recycling process including being reused in concrete.
One area of focus for McSorley and his team is reusing turbine blades for erosion management, repurposing them as erosion walls along P.E.I. shorelines.
"We want to refine that process. Some of the things not even on the recycling, but the cranes used to take them down are another issue," McSorley said.
According to McSorley, the wind turbines included in his research are halfway through their 20-year rated lifespan, meaning that better solutions for wind turbine recycling need to be found in the next decade.
Myers agreed with this timeline, stating that turbine blade recycling is certainly an emerging issue.
"As these turbines reach the end of their life cycle, there needs to be better solutions. It is not a big issue at the moment, but it will be in years to come," Myers said.
Myers stated that presently IWMC has not received a large number of turbine blades from residential sources, and commercial blades are often shipped out of province.