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U.S. Department of Energy launches $5.1 million wind turbine recycling prize

Wind turbines generate power in a field
About 85 percent to 90 percent of a wind turbine's mass is made from materials that can already be commercially recycled. Pixabay

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has launched the Wind Turbine Materials Recycling Prize. The prize is a $5.1 million competition funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that will help the U.S. develop a cost-effective recycling industry for two important materials used in wind turbines: fibre-reinforced composites and rare earth elements. By helping to create a circular wind energy economy, this prize will increase the sustainability of wind energy and support the U.S.' goals of achieving a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035 and net-zero emissions by 2050.

"We need a sustainable and secure domestic wind energy supply chain to achieve our climate goals," said Alejandro Moreno, acting assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy. "By creating new cost-effective recycling streams for key wind turbine materials, this prize will help ensure wind energy can continue to rapidly expand across the United States."

About 85 percent to 90 percent of a wind turbine's mass is made from materials that can already be commercially recycled. The bulk of the unrecycled materials is composed of fibre-reinforced composites (carbon fibre and fibreglass). These materials can be found in various forms in wind turbine blades, nacelle covers, and the cover for the hub that connects the blades to the wind turbine. The wind energy industry also depends on critical minerals, such as rare earth elements (including the neodymium and dysprosium magnets used in generators), which do not currently have U.S. commercial-scale recycling options.

This prize seeks to develop U.S. recycling options for fibre-reinforced composites and rare earth elements, which can lessen the need to extract and process raw materials to meet this need. This benefits the environment, makes supply chains more resilient to price volatility and disruption, and reduces dependence on foreign sources of these materials.

This launch marks the opening of the first of two phases in the Wind Turbine Materials Recycling Prize. In the first phase, Initiate!, the DOE invites participants to present technologies that have previously not been applied to the recycling of wind energy system materials, as well as technologies that could improve existing wind material recycling processes. During the second phase, Accelerate!, competitors will demonstrate prototypes of their technologies.

The competition is open to private (for-profit and nonprofit) organizations, nonfederal government (such as state, county, tribal, and municipal) entities, academic institutions, and individuals that meet all eligibility requirements listed in the official rules.

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