24 June 2022

We Were Told They Would Last (virtually) Forever

Forever is 10 to 20 years, apparently. Wind turbines bound for landfill because of hefty recycling expenses - ABC News. Okay, we were told they would be maintenance free, which isn't quite the same thing. People who don't deal with equipment in hostile environments might have actually believed that.

A study led by Professor Peter Majewski indicated that tens of thousands of old turbines could end up in landfill by the end of the decade.

Worldwide, there could be more than 40 million tonnes of blade waste in landfills by 2050.

Here's a Discovery UK video from 2019 - queued up to the relevant section, on when engineers "discovered" that stuff in the real world needs maintenance.

But back to the article linked at the top.

Wind turbines have life span of 10 to 20 years and are expensive to break down due to their size and the fact they are made from a mixture of composite materials including glass fibre, carbon fibre, polyester and epoxy resins.

There was a meme floating around social media, detailing the amount of steel, and epoxy (I believe) included in your average wind turbine, asking could they recoup the power used in there creation in that lifespan.

Probably, yes. But they still represent a huge problem of waste.

What is the solution proposed in the article? Why more government of course. That is answer to all problems today, isn't it?

There are ways to recycle the blades. They just are not quite economically feasible. Actually you can recycle the glass fiber, once you separate it from the expoy, but then the epoxy is "usually used for energy production." That means you burn it in an incinerator.

That doesn't sound too green, but what do I know? (Hat tip.)


  1. They are, properly speaking, maintenance-free. Which is to say, they're designed in such a way that no maintenance is possible, and when any part wears out you just throw the whole thing away and buy a new one. Kind of like an inkjet printer, but much much bigger.
    And the working life of a wind turbine seems to be in line with the working life of a photovoltaic panel. Compare to the working life of, oh, a B-52 or a classic VW Bug (far from maintenance-free, but they can be kept going). Heck, my mostly-low-maintenance Prius is now past the 20-year mark, and should be good for a few years yet.

    1. Disposable.

      People tell me that "Tesla batteries should last about 100K miles. How long do you drive a car?"

      Then I tell them the mileage on my SUV - it just hit 260,000 miles - more than a quarter of a million miles. They usually - not always - shut up after that.

    2. Greens used to be all about "reduce, reuse, recycle." But they seem to have adopted the everything-should-be-disposable vibe from the 1970s and 80s

    3. The life expectancy of batteries is an interesting question.
      When I first acquired the Venerable Prius (which was brand new at the time), people were pushing the idea that the traction battery wouldn't last more then three years, and that it was non-recyclable. This idea persisted for many years after that. In fact, mine lasted well over fifteen years and nearly a quarter of a million miles - not too shabby for the same NiMH technology notorious for failing in laptops and power tools after less than a year. A new battery got the car back in service as my daily driver, and I assume the old one was in fact recycled.
      Thing is, while the Prius accomplishes this with the old NiMH battery tech, and current EVs use some flavor of lithium battery (noted for much longer working life in laptops and power tools), the Prius has specialized battery management designed to optimize working life at the expense of about half the nominal capacity. An actual EV will ordinarily be running much deeper cycles, thereby reducing the working life.
      So... coming up with a prediction as to Tesla battery life is Complicated, but I assume there's a fair amount of history by now, and there should be progressive improvement as they refine both the battery tech and the battery-management strategy - and to a large extent the life of the battery will depend on the habits of the user, in ways that may not be obvious nor explained in the owner's manual.
      (How long do I keep a car? First was a hand-me-down '73 Matador; lasted until '89. Then a Jeep Cherokee; lasted from '89 to '02, at which point I bought the Prius and had a rebuilt engine put in the Jeep, keeping it usable for hauling stuff until the transmission sprang a leak in '17 or thereabouts. Buying a new car every three years is for trendy people with more money than sense. I figure if the average annual cost of repairs is less than 10% the price of a shiny new replacement, keeping the old one running is the preferred approach. Use it up and wear it out....)

    4. You would think lithium batteries would be recycled, but my curbside program doesn't handle them, and about once or twice a year the company sends out the "Please don't put lithium-ion batteries in the trash." Apparently when compressed they have a tendency to catch fire. Apparently they've lost a few trucks per year on that front.

  2. Yeah, they're kinda dangerous for curbside disposal, especially in mixed trash and even more so if it gets crushed. (See also: the internationally-mandated HAZMAT label on the shipping container for anything that includes a lithium coin cell - appropriate for case lots, and mindlessly applied to tiny non-threats).
    Given reports of resource shortages, I'd assume that there should be a system in place for recycling large batteries, such as the ones in EVs. Smaller batteries should also be recyclable, but getting them routed into the process is a problem; I think there just aren't enough of them at any given time in any given area to justify a collection program, so they just accumulate in kitchen junk drawers until the annual HAZMAT drop-off day.


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