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The Decarbonization Race

Mar 27, 2023

Today, discussions on decarbonization are focused about what we need to build - more clean energy assets, more electric vehicles, more hydrogen and EV-charging infrastructure, more new efficient buildings or software and equipment to make older building more efficient. But a soon-to-be-huge issue that’s emerging is waste - retired solar panels, wind turbines and blades, batteries from electric vehicles and energy storage - and what to do with it all.

In this Energy Minute, co-hosts Dana Dohse and Steven Goldman pull back the lens and take a broader look at the challenges of end-of-life materials pose to the clean energy transition, and how a mix of startups, local governments and heavy industrial companies are finding ways to reuse, repurpose and recycle solar panels, wind blades and turbines and batteries. They provide insights on some of the early efforts - and big funding rounds - underway to close the loop on materials in the clean energy supply chain.

Key Takeaways:

  • New recycling technology has the potential to separate out the elements that are caught up in the “hash,” such as silicon, polysilicon, and silver. Those materials are expected to become more valuable over time due to virgin material shortages and supply chain bottlenecks.
  • The cumulative mass of decommissioned wind turbine blades in the U.S. will reach 1.5 million metric tons by 2040 and 2.2 million tons by 2050. The largest blades being deployed today - turning to power 15-megawatt offshore wind turbines - are over 350 feet long, roughly the length of a football field, so keeping them from taking up landfill space is critical for communities.
  • A recent partnership between the Environmental Solutions and Services division of Veolia North America, an energy, water, and waste company, and GE Renewables to build a recycling program has already turned 2,000 of these giant blades into an alternative valuable commodity, which is cement.