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‘ZEBRA project’ launched to develop first 100% recyclable wind turbine blades

On September 23, a cross-sector consortium, including LM Wind Power, announced a groundbreaking project to design and manufacture the wind industry’s first 100% recyclable wind turbine blade.

Wind energy, both onshore and offshore, plays a critical role in the world’s transition to carbon-free energy sources. With a product lifespan of 30 years and a wind turbine recyclability rate of 85% to 90%, the wind power industry is now looking to close the remaining gap by designing and manufacturing the first 100% recyclable wind turbine blade.

The ZEBRA (Zero wastE Blade ReseArch) project, driven by French research center IRT Jules Verne, brings together industrial companies and technical centers to demonstrate on a full scale the technical, economic and environmental relevance of thermoplastic wind turbine blades, with an eco-design approach to facilitate recycling. The project has been launched for a period of 42 months with a budget of €18.5 million ($21.8 million).

Towards highly recyclable composites

To accelerate the wind power industry’s transition to a circular economy for wind turbine blades, the ZEBRA project establishes a strategic consortium that represents the full value chain: from development of materials, to blade manufacturing, to wind turbine operation and decommissioning, and finally recycling of the decommissioned blade material.

  • Arkema has developed Elium®, a thermoplastic resin, well known for its recyclable properties by depolymerization or dissolution. This resin will be used in the ZEBRA project.  

  • The project will benefit from CANOE expertise on polymer formulation, carbon fiber development and polymer recycling. CANOE has recently developed a very innovative recycling process of fiber-reinforced acrylic composite material by dissolution method providing a high added-value recovery of both separate recycled methyl methacrylate monomer and recycled fiber.

  • ENGIE is a world-class wind farm operator, with 8.5 GW under management, and the French leader of the wind industry, with more than 2.6 GW of installed capacities. Its purpose is to act to accelerate the transition towards a carbon-neutral economy, in particular through the sustainable development of renewable technologies.

  • LM Wind Power is a world leading designer and manufacturer of wind turbine blades, with more than 228,000 blades produced since 1978. The Cherbourg factory associated with the ZEBRA project has produced the largest blade ever manufactured at 107 meters in length.

  • Owens Corning is one of the world leaders in the field of glass fiber and composite elements and the inventor of patented High Modulus Glass technology that created step change performances in the wind industry the last decade.

  • SUEZ, which helps cities and industries to intelligently and sustainably manage their resources, brings its expertise in the eco-design of the materials used and in the best recycling techniques

Within the ZEBRA project, LM Wind Power will design the product, process and manufacture two prototype blades using Arkema’s Elium® resin, in order to test and validate the behavior of the composite material and its feasibility for industrial production. In parallel, the ZEBRA project partners will focus on developing and optimizing the manufacturing process by using automation, to reduce energy consumption and waste from production. Project partners will then explore methods to recycle the materials used in the prototype blades into new products. Finally, a life cycle analysis will assess the environmental and economic viability of further utilizing the thermoplastic material in future wind turbine blades.

A project supported by the entire wind energy sector

Céline Largeau, ZEBRA project Manager, IRT Jules Verne, stated: “Demonstrating a circular approach to wind turbine blades throughout their lifetime requires mobilizing a strategic consortium covering the whole value chain to guarantee valuable and precise industrial data and achievements. The ZEBRA project is a great opportunity to join together Arkema, CANOE, ENGIE, LM Wind Power, Owens Corning and Suez who are key leaders in the wind energy sector. We look forward to carrying out constructive work altogether to improve wind energy performance and efficiency.

Torben K. Jacobsen, Senior Director Advanced Technology Systems, LM Wind Power, stated: “As a key player in the transition to affordable, renewable energy sources across the world, the wind power industry works actively to develop new materials with higher performance, longer lifespan and recyclable properties. Using Elium® resin, combined with design, manufacturing and recycling process optimization, constitutes an opportunity to reduce cost, production time and environmental impact of wind turbine blades. We are thrilled to be a launching partner for a truly recyclable blade for future wind turbines, leading the way to a sustainable world that works for generations to come.

Read the original press release (in French) from IRT Jules Verne here