skip to primary navigationskip to content

MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge

Claire Lambe

Application of the Circular Economy Principals to the Wind Industry in Ireland

The wind energy industry has grown rapidly in the last 20 years. The first wind farm in Ireland was installed in 1992, and since then over 2000 turbines have been installed nationwide. With the increasing demand, vast improvements have been made in the technology. The diameters of wind turbines blades have reached over 150m for the largest onshore models. There is increased energy and material use as greater numbers of larger wind turbines are installed. This creates a problem for the management of these materials when the farm comes to the end of its working life. In Ireland, there are few options for the reuse of the wind turbines and no recycling facilities for the blade materials. This project applies the principles of the Circular Economy (CE) to the wind energy industry to uncover how materials used in wind farms can be maintained in a closed loop and eliminate waste.

In the application of the CE to the wind energy industry in Ireland, this project aims to: i) estimate the scale of material requiring management coming from Irish wind farms in the next 20 years; ii) identify the end of life (EoL) options for these materials and investigate how they compare in terms of sustainability and economics; and iii) make recommendations for stakeholders to achieve a more circular economy in the wind energy industry.

The results conclude that there are insufficient provisions to manage the waste materials from Irish wind farms. 5,8000 tonnes of blade material will require management by 2035, and currently this waste has no alternative than landfill. The EoL options for wind turbines in Ireland are life extension, refurbish, recycling and landfill. Refurbish is the optimal EoL option for effective energy and material use, whereas life extension results in the highest economic return for developers. Government and industry action is required if the sector is to achieve a greater CE. Recommendations for action required by the stakeholders are presented in the work.

This project focused the lens of the CE on the EoL materials from wind farms. Future work could look at applying the CE concept to the design phase of wind turbines, equally enabling greater circularity in the industry.