The wind energy market has experienced an exponential growth in the last few decades, with thousands of wind turbines having been installed every year worldwide. Predictions indicate that the trend will go on for many more years, keeping wind energy at the forefront of renewable energy generation worldwide and helping the world to have safe, reliable, sustainable and cheap energy.
The average useful life of wind turbines is about 20 years. After this period, the mechanical and structural properties of the turbines decay and refurbishments in some cases might be necessary to extend their lifetime for a few more years, while in other cases, the wind turbines are dismantled. Whereas the biggest portion of wind turbine components are quite easy to recycle and reuse (i.e. metal parts), there is a small non-metallic portion of components that is less easy to recycle or reuse, namely the blades of the wind turbines. These are mostly made of composite materials (typically glass/carbon fibres + epoxy matrix), plus some other minor components/materials (e.g. glue and gelcoat), making this task particularly challenging.
As the first generations of wind turbine technology approach the end-of-life and must be dismantled, the need to find adequate methods to recycle and reuse the blades (and its components) gains increasing relevance and importance. Hence, Enel Green Power (EGP) is looking for the best available methods to recycle and/or reuse the materials the wind turbine blades, in order to be more and more sustainable, under a circular economy perspective.
This Challenge provides contribution to the following Sustainable Development Goals:
SDG 11 - Sustainable cities and communities
SDG 12 - Responsible consumption and production
SDG 13 - Climate action
This Theoretical Challenge requires only a written proposal.
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During their lifetime, the use and the exposure to environmental conditions lead to the decay in wind turbine blades. At the end of the useful life (20 years) they can present:
mechanical and structural decay as a consequence of years of stress and performance
physical damages from aggressive environmental conditions (ice, rain erosion, sand, thermal hot/cold cycles during day/night and summer/winter, etc.)
meaning that they need to be repaired for the same function (if possible, taking into account that average wind turbines today are far bigger than the ones we had 20 years ago) or to find new uses.
A typical wind turbine blade is a structure of a large magnitude in terms of size and weight, and is mostly made of composite materials (typically glass/carbon fibres + epoxy matrix), plus some other minor components/materials (e.g. glue and gelcoat).
The sizes and weights of the blades can range roughly from 20 to 80 meters length and 4 to 20 tonnes; smaller ones will be dismantled in next years, while for bigger ones the residual useful life is still quite long.
Attached at the bottom of this page a image gives the Solver a sense for the magnitude of these structures (Wind Turbine Blade Example 1)
Enel Green Power is looking for the best – on a sustainability, effectiveness, and cost perspective – available methods to recycle and/or reuse the materials of the wind turbine blades, in order to be more and more sustainable, under a circular economy perspective.
The reuse of the blades for the same purpose (blade for wind farm, after proper treatment and assessment) is an option eligible for the Challenge and of great interest for EGP. Reuse opportunities of the materials for uses on-site at wind farm's locations (for construction or operations) are also of high interest.
Any proposed solution should address the following Solution Requirements:
Capable of dealing with large amounts of materials. A wind turbine blade weighs a few tonnes, each wind turbine has three blades and a wind farm can be made up of a small number as well as of a hundred of wind turbines, or even more. Therefore the total amount of material from a single wind farm can easily reach up to 1000 tonnes or even far more for the big ones. Therefore Enel Green Power is seeking sustainable disposition solutions for several hundred blades at multiple project locations in various Countries. The proposed solution must therefore consider and address these amounts of material
The proposed solution must, as much as possible, address geographically local opportunities for reuse and recycle, in order to avoid or minimize transporting the blades for long distances due to the size, weight and scale of the materials (even if cut into pieces)
The solution must be feasible and as simple as possible, requiring the smallest number of interventions or processing steps possible in order to convert it for the new use
The solution must be cost-effective and has to take into account the total cost of recycling (life cycle analysis, LCA) compared to the use of the alternative materials available for the proposed new use
The proposed solution must, at least, address the biggest material portion of the blades, i.e. the main composite typically made up of glass/carbon fibers + resin. Solutions that allow to recycle and reuse 100% of the blades’ materials will be rated higher in this requirement. Solutions that cannot achieve this must however address the separation and adequate disposal of the unused materials and components
Solutions should be capable of being deployed globally, hence following environmental and safety best practices and taking into consideration laws and regulations for material handling and disposal. If Solvers require further clarifications regarding regulatory aspects, please contact us on EnelOpenInnovabilityChallenges@innocentive.com
The submitted proposal should include the following:
Detailed description of the proposed method that allows for a feasibility assessment by EGP and includes (but is not limited to):
A description of all chemical/mechanical/physical processes involved
Details on the materials/components streams resulting from the process, from a chemical/mechanical/physical point of view
Description on how materials/components resulting from the process shall be used. In cases where the Solver proposes uses that are not on-site at the wind farm, include details about the proposed application, who will use the material (e.g. construction industry, automotive), and how it compares to current equivalent products (e.g. in terms of quality)
Reference to any chemical substance applied, if any, and its effect on the product
Detailed assessment of the overall process from an environmental point of view (i.e. any further emissions resulting from blade transportation, composite treatments, etc.)
Description of the necessary infrastructure, logistics to move the blades, and cost calculations would help and shall be added, if possible
Detailed description of the overall cost of the process, with a focus on its cost effectiveness
Rationale as to why the Solver believes that the proposed solution will work. This rationale should address each of the Solution Requirements in detail and should be supported with relevant examples and include a comparison to alternative processes, if any.
Data, case studies, patent and journal references or any additional material that supports the proposed solution.
The proposal should not include any personal identifying information (name, username, company, address, phone, email, personal website, resume, etc.) or any information the Solvers may consider as their Intellectual Property they do not want to share.
Q1. What are the specifications and dimenstions of a hypothetical wind turbine blade?
Wind turbine blades installed 15-20 years ago where in the range of 20m (each, so the rotor diameter was around 40m); as of today, an average size for an onshore wind turbine blade is around 60m (Solvers should take it as an indication as there are bigger ones). Here below some approximate dimensions of the main sections. Again, they shall be intended as an indication.
width/diameter @ blade root
Blade width @
max chord (20-30% of blade length, from the root)
Blade width @
Less than 0,5m
Less than 1m
Solvers can then consider that blades tapers linearly from the max-width section to the tip.
Q2. What are the materials used in these blades?
The Challenge description already contains some details - composite materials (typically glass/carbon fibres + epoxy matrix), plus some other minor components/materials (e.g. glue and gelcoat).It is not possible to enter in materials percentage or further details, since every blade and wind turbine manufacturer is using materials and compositions that may differ from each other. In any case, the most relevant part to be addressed is the composite one (typically glass/carbon fiber + epoxy), that is representing roughly more than 90% of the blade weight. The rest is typically adhesive and some other minor-weight materials (also some steel inserts – that may be recycled - etc.).
Q3. What is the cost of each blade to manufacture?
The cost varies considerably from blade to blade. In any case, very roughly, please consider it in the range 50-150k€ (old and small ones – new and big ones).
This is a Theoretical Challenge which requires only a written proposal to be submitted. The Challenge award will be contingent upon theoretical evaluation of the proposal by the Seeker. The solution may combine existing components, commercially available components, and/or novel Solver solutions. Ideas leveraged from other industries with similar problems are encouraged.
In this Challenge we are accepting solution proposals in English, Spanish and Italian.
To receive an award, the Solvers will not have to transfer their exclusive IP rights to the Seeker. Instead, Solvers will grant to the Seeker a non-exclusive license to practice their solutions.
Submissions to this Challenge must be received by 11:59 PM (CET) on February 17, 2019. Late submissions will not be considered.
What happens next?
After the Challenge deadline, the Seeker will complete the review process and make a decision with regards to the Winning Solution(s). All Solvers that submit a proposal will be notified on the status of their submissions.
InnoCentive collaborates with Enel to manage this challenge.
InnoCentive is the global innovation marketplace where creative minds solve some of the world's most important problems for cash awards up to $1 million. Commercial, governmental and humanitarian organizations engage with InnoCentive to solve problems that can impact humankind in areas ranging from the environment to medical advancements.