The Department of Natural resources has been holding meetings on discuss possible changes or improvements to the process of disposing of used wind turbine blades.
The DNR’s Aime Davidson says there are regulations in place already for disposing of the blades — but she says there are still challenges. “They’re really large and really strong, so they’re hard to manage at the landfills in those large pieces. And I think there is also desire to recycle them, obviously as they’re a green energy,” she says. “And so kind of similar situation figuring out exactly how you do that has been difficult.”
She says there have been some solutions worked out. “Landfilling — I think they’ve gotten to a point where if they’re cut down into small enough pieces, they’re able to manage them just like any other waste. So that’s good,” Davidson says. “As far as recycling, I do know that there are a few places where they grind them up and are potentially using them as a substitute for aggregate and concrete mixes.” She says those concrete mixes are used for parking areas and planters.
Davidson there’s continued work on figuring out new formulations for blades going out to make them easier to recycle. Another aspect of the blades is making sure they don’t get backed up into big piles. Davidson says there are regulations that require recyclers to show they are indeed recycling the blades.
“Whatever amount of material coming in a certain percentage has to go off site. So…it doesn’t focus so much on how much you can have on site, it’s more focused on is the material moving through. So, that shows that you have a legitimate end use,” she says. Davidson says they don’t want to necessarily stifle the recycling industry to keep it from having the quantity it needs. She says there has been one case of a pile of blades that has been forwarded to the Attorney General’s office, but the other piles have all been taken care of.
The DNR’s ongoing meetings include the utility companies, industry representatives, and solid waste agencies, to develop recommendations. “These strategies would be looking at is there something different or more that we would want to do an Iowa to manage these materials,” she says. Davidson says they are starting to put together some recommendations from those discussions.
“I’m not 100 percent sure, at this point, if it would be to the extent of any law changes, or if it would be more along the lines of incentives or some assistance to have more recycling — kind of what direction should this go,” according to Davidson. Davidson says disposing of wind blades has become a topic of discussion in a lot of places.
“It’s been a struggle across the whole country, even in Europe. This is not unique to Iowa by any means,” she says. Davidson says the use of solar panels is not as far along as wind turbines, but finding ways to dispose of the solar panels is something that looms as well.