PacifiCorp is supporting a new technology that holds promise for recycling fiberglass products such as decommissioned wind turbine blades that might otherwise end up in a landfill.
With funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Small Business Technology Transfer program and Wind Energy Technologies Office, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is developing technology for large-scale recycling of wind blades for new uses. PacifiCorp, along with sister utility MidAmerican, will be supporting UT Knoxville partner Carbon Rivers, LLC to prove out a recycling program that will serve as the basis for eventual development of a full-scale commercial wind turbine blade recycling and processing plant.
PacifiCorp’s recent investment of more than $3.1 billion into Wyoming wind projects includes upgrading or “repowering” its existing wind fleet with larger blades and newer technology that will increase energy production by about 27 percent. Crews began transporting decommissioned blades September 15, 2020, from the recently repowered Dunlap Wind Project near Medicine Bow, Wyoming, to a facility operated by Carbon Rivers, LLC in Knoxville, Tennessee. Once at the facility, the retired blades will be used to demonstrate recycling technology that will transform them into new composites. The new blade recycling technology recovers glass fiber from reinforced polymer composites, allowing the material to be used for vehicles, other renewable energy system components, agricultural products, and performance sports equipment.
Wind plants, once decommissioned, generally have a high scrap value in the non-fiberglass project infrastructure such as steel, electric generators and the associated copper. While PacifiCorp’s repowering efforts have resulted in nearly 90 percent of the removed wind turbine components being recycled, standard industry practice can include disposing of the fiberglass blade material in a landfill due to a lack of economic recycling or reprocessing options in the U.S.
This recycling advancement is made possible in part by PacifiCorp‘s contribution to the project, which will help Carbon Rivers, LLC progress towards its goal to divert more than 100 tons of material from landfill disposal and transform it into useful products.