Circular Economy: From Wind Turbine to Paving Stones

Wind energy is the future. The more wind turbines, the better, you would say. Except that wind turbines have a limited lifespan. So, what do you do with wind turbines that have been written off? “By 2028, half of the wind turbines on the Flevopolder will have to come down. And no-one knows what to do with the waste.” Students studying Industrial Engineering and Management have assisted an external client to come up with a sustainable solution.
Recycling wind turbines


Entrepreneur Sebastiaan Verheijen of EES (Extreme Eco Solutions) already gave this matter some thought ten years ago. “You sometimes see blades of wind turbines being used as play equipment. It’s a fun idea but it is not a sustainable solution. The problem is that the blades are made from a composite material. This can only be burned at very high temperatures. That is why large-scale waste processing companies are not interested in composite materials.” However, they can be shredded and recycled. “Add some resin and the material can be moulded into paving stones, tombstones, and sinks.” Verheijen has come up with infinite possibilities. At the same time, he has kept an eye out for investors. He has wondered how to optimise the industrial process. Through a network of scientists by the name of The Green Brain he was referred to HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht (HU).


The problem was mainly one of Business Economics and Logistics. Do you process the blades of the wind turbines on site or do you set up a central processing plant? This was the question that was tackled by the business economics students. Their project formed part of twenty multi-disciplinary Quest Projects for the third-year students of the HU. Dré Struijk, their lecturer and supervisor, provided them with the manual entitled ‘Problem-solving in organisations’. He summarises it as: “How do you approach and solve a problem. There is nothing more rewarding than solving a real problem.” This is also a very current topic. “Wind turbines are not only on the increase, but a growing number of them are being written off.”

Student research

Legislation and regulations soon became an essential part of the project. Student Sude Hoogenveen states: “Shredding cannot be performed just anywhere. The legislation and regulations were much more extensive than we first thought. EES has to comply with so many rules. Every site requires research and that quickly mounts up to €15,000. Can it actually be profitable?” The students collected all the necessary information about permits and the duty to report, and passed this onto the entrepreneur. They calculated that it makes sense to place a shredder on site if eight or more wind turbines are being dismantled. This was extremely useful information for the entrepreneur Sebastiaan Verheijen. He was happy with his collaboration with this group of students. The lecturer’s background has also proved highly useful: “Dré is a lateral-entry academic and has been an entrepreneur himself, so he knows how things work in the real world.”

New pavements

So, what next? One of the plans is to re-use the composite material at its place of origin. Verheijen: “It would be fantastic if the pavements between the wind turbines could be made from recycled material.” In the Flevopolder they will be able to put his ideas to good use in the years to come. And the students from the HU are only too happy to assist.