A Tennessee recycling company has commercialized a process to recycle every part of decommissioned wind turbine blades.
With funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind Energy Technologies Office, Carbon Rivers found a way to recover clean, mechanically intact glass fiber from wind turbine blades with high purity, allowing it to be remelted and reused in other applications.
The company could eventually take in 50,000 metric tons of wind turbines annually, providing materials that can go directly into next-generation turbine blade manufacturing.
“This is an extraordinary leap for upcycling materials from wind turbines and closing the loops on a circular renewable energy economy,” said Eva Li, chief engineering officer and senior scientist at Carbon Rivers. “This research will have an enormous global impact on the sustainability of wind energy.”
The company uses pyrolysis, a process that applies intense heat to break down organic components and separate them from the inorganic fiberglass reinforcement, allowing the separated glass fiber to be cleaned and collected.
The process also creates synthetic forms of natural gas and crude oil, called syngas and pyrolysis oil.
Carbon Rivers will separate part of its business into another entity called Windfall Inc., which will develop the first full scale U.S.-based glass fiber recycling facility, in Knoxville, Tennessee.
The facility will be built on a site that originally supported the Manhattan Project, the U.S. effort to build nuclear weapons during World War II, and will be able to process at least 5,000 fiberglass wind turbine blades each year.