We are actively pursuing practices to achieve better material efficiency and waste reduction through inhouse research and partnering with organizations, such as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), on topics like the recycling of retired materials and using thermoplastics.
As the wind energy market continues its growth and the installed fleet ages, end-of-life options are becoming increasingly important to consider (wind blades currently have an average lifespan of 20 years). Current end-of-life options for wind blades mostly entail sending them to landfills. However, options for recycling are being developed. These recycling options include grinding down the materials to use as inputs in secondary applications.
Our primary materials and waste objective is to mitigate and manage the hazardous and nonbiodegradable waste generated from production. We aim to reduce the amount of waste per item produced. For the waste that is generated, we aim to divert it from landfills, through recycling and energy recovery (or waste-to-energy) incineration. Energy recovery is a preferred method of waste management over treatment and disposal as it provides a source of energy generation and reduces carbon emissions due to the reduction of fossil fuel reliance.1 In 2019, we had 47,992 metric tons (tons) of overall waste, with 4,049 tons of hazardous and 43,943 tons nonhazardous waste. Landfilled hazardous waste is disposed of through controlled confinement in a landfill that is lined, monitored and in compliance with government regulations. Of our non-hazardous waste we sent 8,992 tons to recycling, 5,646 tons to incineration, 7,111 tons to energy recovery, and 22,182 tons to a landfill.
Waste by Disposal Type
Raw material is the key cost driver of the products we manufacture. We aim to use our materials as efficiently as we can while still meeting the expectations and requirements of our customers. Since the wind blades we build are based on our customers’ designs, the materials used to build them are generally determined by our customers. Three percent of our materials used to produce wind blades in 2019 were from renewable resources, balsa wood.
We also use recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) to produce wind blades. We are committed to doing our part in managing our material usage and waste production. We currently track the materials to be used in our manufacturing through our product lifecycle management system and plan to increase real-time data tracking in our enterprise resource planning system in our facilities, which we anticipate will reduce inefficiencies and improve accuracy of our material tracking. We anticipate this being completed by the end of 2021.