Recycling in the wind energy sector has a prize


Asturias has great strengths to bet on a powerful circular economy in sectors such as wind turbines.

It is a relatively young market, but it is already beginning the process of replacing or repowering its installations. The European Commission estimates that wind energy could provide 50% of the European Union’s electricity demand by 2050. Wind Europe (formerly the European Wind Energy Association), EuCIA (European Composites Association) and Cefic (European Chemical Industry Council) have produced a comprehensive report as a result of their commitment to promote a circular economy that reduces environmental impacts throughout product life cycles.

It is estimated that the lifetime of a wind turbine is approximately 20-25 years, although some can even be extended with repowering to 35 years. Many of those installed in the 1990s are only a few hundred kilowatts and have a hub height of less than 60 metres. Today we are talking about turbines of 160 metres and higher. In fact, an analysis of 100 repowering projects in Europe shows that the number of turbines is decreasing by a third in the future, while the capacity of wind farms is doubling.

Spain is one of the most mature markets in the EU, along with Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. And that is where change must start: recycling and reuse where appropriate. With some differentiated parts. The steel turbine (tower), 100% recyclable, thus assured business as a scrap sale for new electric furnaces and steel mills. The turbine blades, made of composite materials such as fibreglass and carbon fibre, polymers or polyesters, which is a cross-sectoral challenge, not only for the wind industry. And finally, that of foundations (cement). To add a fact: today 2.5 million tonnes of composite material are used worldwide and it is estimated that in 2023 some 14,000 blades could be dismantled, which would be equivalent to some 40,000-60,000 tonnes.

With this approach and these data in hand, Asturias has the possibility to ‘get ahead’ and take advantage of its enormous strengths to present itself as a major player in the world of the circular economy. One of the most important multinationals in the world, Windar renovables, part of the Daniel Alonso Group, has its headquarters in Avilés. Here it has its manufacturing centres, its own R&D – plus that provided by ArcelorMittal and Idonial – its ‘intelligence’, in short, which it then develops in its plants in Brazil, India, Mexico, Russia and the United States. Here, just a few metres from the PEPA industrial estate, it has one of the most important European ports for the movement of wind turbines. And finally, it has a worldwide customer and supplier portfolio that few other companies will possess.

Windar will certainly take care of the ‘replacement’ of its turbines, but Asturias could open up a new industrial field for the recycling of the blades’ compounds and open to other sectors, as can be seen now with the dismantling of ArcelorMittal’s coke batteries, and before that with the scrapping of the entire steelworks, always in hands outside the territory. The key? To get ahead of the game. The data are there.