Each month we highlight a company we have researched and features on our Ethical Screening Portal, this month we look at Vestas Wind Systems and Renewable Energy Equipment.
Vestas Wind Systems
Sector: Renewable Energy Equipment
Sector Summary (Key issues within the sector/current themes)
The use of the wind to power mechanisms and objects is ancient; however, the concept of utilising it for electrical power generation dates back to the nineteenth century at what is now Strathclyde University. In 2021, 6.6% of energy generation worldwide was from wind, predominantly in China, the USA, Germany and the UK. The proportion in the UK is significantly higher - in 2022, wind contributed a record 26.8% of electricity generation.
While no GHG emissions are directly associated with the operating wind turbine, several environmental impacts arise from their usage and life cycle.
- Materials production, transportation, on-site construction, and assembly, (including emissions from these processes).
- Maintenance, decommissioning and dismantling.
- Land use, wildlife and habitat impact.
One of the most challenging issues has been that wind turbine blades have been manufactured with epoxy-based resin for several decades, which is problematic to deal with at the end of its operational life. The chemical properties of the resin are practically impossible to break down into reusable component materials, meaning the blades are often cut into smaller pieces and taken to a landfill. There has been a great deal of effort by many providers to find alternative solutions to mitigate the use of epoxy resin as a construction material.
Vestas Wind Systems - Company Overview
Vestas Wind Systems is a Danish company founded in 1945. The company designs, manufactures, installs, and services wind energy and hybrid projects worldwide. The company has installed over 164 GW of wind turbines in 88 countries - in 2022 it produced 3,126 turbines. The company has estimated that its energy generation platforms have prevented around 1.5 billion tonnes of CO₂ being emitted into the atmosphere. Vestas Wind System offers a variety of products, including onshore and offshore energy capture platforms. In this report we focus on steps taken to manage the turbine life cycle.
Life Cycle Assessments
Vestas states that it performs life cycle assessments (LCAs) on all its products, which evaluates the complete value-chain performance from raw material manufacturers to operation, transport and end-of-life. This focus on the environmental performance of products and technologies is passed to customers, including environmental metrics related to its specific wind plant, such as carbon footprint, return on energy, and water use. This enables customers to make informed choices about Vesta's products and make appropriate long terms plans around the operation and decommissioning. In 2022, the company engaged with WindEurope to help standardise LCA approaches among turbine manufacturers.
In February 2023, the company announced a new solution related to the life cycle of epoxy-based turbine blades. A new chemical process allows epoxy-based turbine blades to, potentially, be turned into a source of raw material to build new turbine blades. As this process relies on widely available chemicals, it can be replicated on a mass scale and include turbine blades at the end of their life cycle or those already disposed of in landfills. Vestas Wind Systems is working with Stena Recycling and global epoxy manufacturer Olin to bring this new process to full market commercialisation, with the potential for a circular lifecycle of new blades (and potentially other products) manufactured from reused blade material.
The Bigger Picture
With the IPCC Climate Change 2023 Report published this month, the need to avert the worst impacts of climate change and preserve a liveable planet have never been more apparent. As an energy source that emits no emissions through direct operations, power generation from wind has long been considered a solution to limited temperature increases to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Wind power will contribute an increasing part of the energy mix, but as noted one of the more significant issues is the life cycle of materials used to build the infrastructure.
Vestas Wind Systems' approach to incorporating life cycle management into its product lines helps reduce the amount of waste its platforms create at the end of the operational life cycle. Its goal is to standardise life cycle management across the industry and incorporate new processes to reuse existing landfilled epoxy wind turbine blades, overcoming one of the significant issues related to further increases in wind power.
Vestas Wind Systems is a company that features on our Ethical Screening Portal. To find out more about this company, or our services please contact: email@example.com