These bike shelters are made from wind turbines

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Douglas Broom, Senior Writer, Formative Content

  • Wind turbines have a service life of around 20 years.
  • 85% of them can be recycled. But the plastic polymer blades pose a special challenge.
  • 100% recyclable blades are just around the corner.
  • In the meantime, people have come up with some innovative ways to reuse them.

Like many good things in life, wind turbines don’t last forever. But disposing of retired turbine blades has become a headache for the renewable energy industry. They’re made of materials that can’t easily be recycled.

But from cycle shelters to bridges, life-expired blades are finding innovative new uses around the world. And the first 100% recyclable turbine blades have just been produced in Denmark.

Up to 85% of an existing wind turbine, including the steel mast and electrical components made of metals like copper, can be recycled, but not the turbine blades, which already account for 10% of Europe’s fibre-reinforced composite material waste.

Limited lifespan: Wind turbines must be replaced after 20 years service.
Image shows a large wind turbine, of which must be replaced after 20 years of service. Image: Pixabay/Steppinstars

The University of Strathclyde estimates that by 2050 there will be 2 million tonnes of wind turbine waste needing safe disposal globally by 2050. Plastic

What is the World Economic Forum doing about plastic pollution?

More than 90% of plastic is never recycled, and a whopping 8 million metric tons of plastic waste are dumped into the oceans annually. At this rate, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050.

The Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP) is a collaboration between businesses, international donors, national and local governments, community groups and world-class experts seeking meaningful actions to beat plastic pollution.

In Ghana, for example, GPAP is working with technology giant SAP to create a group of more than 2,000 waste pickers and measuring the quantities and types of plastic that they collect. This data is then analysed alongside the prices that are paid throughout the value chain by buyers in Ghana and internationally.

It aims to show how businesses, communities and governments can redesign the global “take-make-dispose” economy as a circular one in which products and materials are redesigned, recovered and reused to reduce environmental impacts.

Read more in our impact story.

In the past, blades which include fibreglass or glass reinforced polymers (GRP), have been dumped in landfills or incinerated. Germany has already banned composite materials from landfills and other nations are also imposing full or partial bans.

Recycling for cyclists

The Danish port city of Aalborg, where the new recyclable blades are being made, has found an innovative new use for old blades, by turning them into bike shelters for the city’s cyclists. The materials that make the blades hard to recycle also make them durable and strong.

Gimme shelter: a section of turbine blade protects bikes in Aalborg, Denmark.
This image shows a section of turbine blade which shelters bikes in Denmark. Image: Siemens Gamesa via Twitter

Nine out of ten Danes own a bike, and cycling accounts for a quarter of all journeys of under 5km in the country. But the Scandinavian climate can be hard on bikes left out of doors, especially in winter.

In Ireland, which will have 11,000 tonnes of decommissioned turbine blades to dispose of over the next four years, University College, Cork has come up with a plan to use some of them to build a bridge on a greenway – a 22km path and cycleway on the track of an old railway line.

The designers say that as well as being structurally strong, the blades’ gentle curves will add an aesthetically attractive feature to the 5 metre span bridge across the Midleton to Youghal Greenway in East Cork which is due to open in 2023.

In the UK meanwhile, retired blades are being used in place of steel to reinforce concrete walls by contractors building the country’s new HS2 high speed rail line.

On the road to a new life: retired turbine blades are being used to reinforce concrete.
Image shows an old turbine blade being used to reinforce concrete. Image: HS2 Ltd

“Reusing old turbine blades reduces waste, cuts demand for new steel and reduces the carbon generated during the production of concrete,” said HS2 innovation manager Rob Cairns.

“If our world-first pilot project goes well, we could see a waste product from the energy industry becoming an essential material for the construction sector in the future.”

Elsewhere, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the United States recently used a large section from a 100 metre blade as the roof of a small conventionally built house. Scientists have also tested the properties of decommissioned blades for use as power line poles.

Chemical breakdown

Danish company Vestas Wind Turbine Systems working with Aarhus University has created a process to chemically break down turbine blades to extract epoxy resin plastic from them which can then be used to make new blades.

Meanwhile, Norwegian wind farm builders Akers Offshore Wind and Strathclyde University have devised a pioneering way of extracting the fibreglass from redundant turbine blades for reuse which they say could meet 50% of global glass fibre demand if implemented worldwide.

“GRP scrap is a challenge not only for the wind power industry, but for all industries reliant on GRP materials in their production and manufacturing,” Akers’ Mats Ektvedt told Euro News.

“This includes car manufacturing, maritime vessels, oil and gas production, construction, sporting goods and more. Our focus now is on the recycling of wind turbine blades, but our goal is to develop recovery processes robust enough to handle other kinds of waste,” he added.

The World Economic Forum says 90% of all plastics produced worldwide are never recycled. The Forum’s Global Plastic Action Partnership is working with business and world leaders to end dumping, increase recycling and create a circular economy in plastics.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Lebanon: UN rights office calls for de-escalation of protest violence

Here’s how companies can make sure they are blockchain-ready

Why the financial scandals multiply?

JADE Generations Club: Connecting perspectives, changing Europe.

At global health forum, UN officials call for strong, people-focused health systems

To entrepreneurship and beyond!

My ‘’cultural’’ contacts with China

‘We are nowhere closer’ to Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, than a year ago, Security Council hears

‘Rare but devastating’ tsunamis underscore need for better preparation, UN chief urges on World Day

‘Regional security and integration’ in Central Africa under threat, Security Council warned

‘Spectre of poverty’ hangs over tribes and indigenous groups: UN labour agency

Recovery and Resilience Facility: Romania submits official recovery and resilience plan

Artificial intelligence: Commission takes forward its work on ethics guidelines

Industrial policy: recommendations to support Europe’s leadership in six strategic business areas

The ocean is teeming with microplastic – a million times more than we thought, suggests new research

Can Obama attract Iran close to the US sphere of influence?

Bring killers of journalists to justice: UN agency seeks media partners for new campaign

Regulate social media platforms to defend democracy, MEPs say

Canada has the most comprehensive and elaborate migration system, but some challenges remain

G20 LIVE: World Leaders in Turkey for G20 Summit. Global Economy will be discussed in Antalya

These countries are the most optimistic about economic recovery from the pandemic

Last-chance Commission: Why Juncker promised investments of €300 billion?

COP25: Developing nation’s strike hard

Ireland’s planning to make its Emerald Isle even greener

Peer-to-peer learning: a way to develop medical students’ trainings

ISIL continues to pose a ‘serious challenge’ worldwide – UN counter-terror chief

Biodiversity: MEPs demand binding targets to protect wildlife and people

Leaders need hard data to make the hard decisions about sustainability

Nicaragua ‘crisis’ still cause for concern amid murder, torture allegations: Bachelet

Trump: Hostile to Europe, voids Tillerson’s “ironclad” ally pledge

Businesses, governments and consumers to implement a more climate-friendly approach to #BeatPlasticPollution on World Environment Day 2018

Right2Water initiative: Is the Commission ready to listen to citizens?

Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate deal is bad for US business. Here’s why.

3 natural mysteries that could be explained by quantum physics

The winds of change: 5 charts on the future of offshore power

Millions of Bangladeshi children at risk from climate crisis, warns UNICEF

COVID-19 and the importance of scientific credibility in decreasing the number of cases

Antitrust: Commission opens investigation into possible anti-competitive conduct of Amazon

Plastic is a global problem. It’s also a global opportunity

NASA is recruiting new astronauts – this is what it takes to apply

Why it’s time to celebrate migrants

Fighting forest fires in Europe – how it works

The Pegasus Project awarded the 2021 Daphne Caruana Galizia Prize for Journalism

Detecting online child sexual abuse requires strong safeguards

Sexual reproductive health rights SRHR and ending HIV: can one be achieved without the other?

Greenhouse gas emissions have already peaked in 30 major cities

Transparency, EU values, and pluralism: new rules for European political parties

Central Asia bloc has important role in ‘peace, stability and prosperity’ beyond region, says Deputy UN chief

Greater transparency, fairer prices for medicines ‘a global human rights issue’, says UN health agency

It’s time to end our ‘separate but unequal’ approach to mental health

How smart tech helps cities fight terrorism and crime

EU and Mercosur reach agreement on trade

UN committed to helping Haiti build better future, says Guterres, marking 10-year anniversary of devastating earthquake

Antitrust: Commission sends Statement of Objections to O2 CZ, CETIN and T-Mobile CZ for their network sharing agreement

5 things to know about the exploding world of pro gaming

World Food Programme accesses Yemeni frontline district for first time since conflict began

UN chief calls for ‘immediate end’ to escalation of fighting in southwestern Syria, as thousands are displaced

The world’s food waste problem is bigger than we thought – here’s what we can do about it

A Sting Exclusive: “Seize the opportunity offered by Africa’s continental free trade area”, written by the Director General of UNIDO

More Stings?


  1. […] discarded. But that is starting to change now. In Denmark, old turbine blades are being turned into bike shelters. In Ireland, there is a plan to use old blades in the construction of a new bridge […]

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: