The issue of what to do with old wind turbine blades is a growing concern as more wind farms reach the end of their lifespan. Wind turbine blades are large, complex structures, and disposing of them is not straightforward. Landfill is one option, but it is not ideal environmentally. Burying blades onsite at wind farms is an alternative approach and the focus of this article.
Why Blades Cannot Stay in Place
When wind turbines reach the end of their operational life, typically around 20-25 years, the huge blades need to be removed before the tower can be taken down. But the blades cannot just be left on the ground at the wind farm site, for several reasons:
- Safety hazard – Large sharp blades left lying around could cause injury.
- Obstruction – Blades on the ground would get in the way of decommissioning equipment driving around the site.
- Environmental impact – Plastics and resins from abandoned blades could eventually leak chemicals into the soil.
Therefore the old blades need to be transported away from the wind farm site. But where should they go?
Problems With Landfill Disposal
Sending decommissioned wind turbine blades to landfill is one option, but not the best one environmentally:
- Blades are extremely large and bulky, taking up a lot of space.
- Residual chemicals could contaminate landfill sites.
- Valuable materials are wasted instead of being recycled.
- Transportation emissions from carrying massive blades long distances.
Benefits of On-Site Burial
A better solution is to bury the old blades onsite at the wind farm where they were used. Here are some of the advantages of on-site burial:
- Minimizes transportation – No need to truck blades far away.
- Preserves land – Does not further expand landfill sites.
- Reduces emissions – Low transportation requirements.
- Allows future recovery – Blades remain accessible as material recovery technology improves.
- Reutilizes site – Repurposes end-of-life area at wind farm.
How to Bury Safely and Responsibly
Burying turbine blades on-site must be done properly to ensure safety and minimize environmental impacts. Here are key steps:
1. Site Analysis
Conduct geological surveys to identify suitable areas for burial. Look for stable soils without subsurface flows or high water tables.
Select a site distant from roads, infrastructure, environmentally sensitive areas.
Consider needs for erosion control, drainage, and minimizing landscape disruption.
2. Blade Breakdown
Cut blades into smaller sections, typically 8-10 meters, to make burial easier.
Recycling tip: Salvage valuable copper wiring and electronic components first.
3. Pit Excavation
Dig trenches or pits large enough to accommodate the blade sections.
Line pits with an impermeable barrier like clay to prevent chemical leaching.
Install drainage pipes at bottom as needed to prevent water accumulation.
4. Blade Lowering
Use heavy machinery like excavators to lower blade pieces into the burial pits carefully.
Arrange sections compactly to conserve space.
Add layers of clean soil and fill material between blade layers.
5. Capping and Closure
When full, cover the pit with a final impermeable barrier cap.
Install monitoring wells to check for groundwater contamination.
Revegetate the area to restore the landscape. Monitor plant growth.
With proper planning and preparation, on-site burial can be a safe, economical, and low-impact solution for dealing with decommissioned wind turbine blades. By burying close to the source, emissions and land use are minimized while allowing future material recovery. While not perfect, it is currently a better option than landfilling these valuable composite materials.