With its Green Deal, the European Union aims to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. Widespread availability of renewable energy will be key to success, and wind power will play a major role, especially in less sunny North-Western Europe. However, the ramp-up of the wind power industry comes with the consumption of large amounts of energy and construction materials that consist of finite natural resources. For this transition period, the two goals of the Green Deal, decarbonization and circularity, are not yet fully aligned. The challenge here will be to embrace the idea of wind power as a fully circular business — from design and extended production life to final raw material recovery. In their joint white paper, the international management consultancy firm Horváth and the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO present a solution based on the 10R framework. The white paper provides manufactures with a high-level approach and recommendations to identify all relevant levers for the increase of circularity within the life cycle of wind turbines and the wind power industry in general.
Materials management has to move with the energy transition
The construction of a typical 5-megawatt onshore wind turbine takes up to 600 tons of steel and massive amounts of non-ferrous metals, rare earths, composite materials and concrete. Currently, rotor blades are very difficult to recycle. It is expected that the ramp-up of renewable energies by 2030 will mean a growth in wind power production of around 50 percent. “This is why we already need concepts and a clear plan today to reuse the released material in order to prevent additional waste and the unnecessary consumption of natural resources,” says Joachim Lentes, Team Leader Digital Engineering at Fraunhofer IAO. “Materials management as a whole has to move with the energy transition.”
The 10R framework from Potting et al. (2017) provides a good model for identifying concrete measures to increase circularity in wind power industry business models. Michael Hertwig from the Digital Engineering Team at Fraunhofer IAO explains its principle: “Put simply, each part is assessed individually based on a material flow analysis: Can I reuse it for a different purpose? If not, I move on to the next level: Can I reuse one of its individual components? If not, can I recycle its material?”
The resulting strategies can be divided into 10 categories in line with the 10R framework (see figure):
- R1 to R3: consume less energy and material through product design
- R4 to R8: extend the useful life of products or components of a product
- R9 to R10: at the end of life (EoL), recover the value of product materials and energy content