As part of President Biden’s Investing in America Agenda, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today launched the Wind Turbine Materials Recycling Prize. This $5.1 million competition funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will help the United States develop a cost-effective recycling industry for two important of materials used in wind turbines: fiber-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 President Biden’s goals of achieving a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035 and net-zero emissions by 2050.
“We need 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%–90% of the mass of a wind turbine is made of materials that can already be commercially recycled. The bulk of the unrecycled materials is composed of fiber-reinforced composites (carbon fiber and fiberglass). 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 domestic commercial-scale recycling options.
This prize, which is part of DOE’s American-Made Challenges program, seeks to develop robust domestic recycling options for fiber-reinforced composites and rare earth elements, which can lessen the United States’ 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.
Today’s announcement marks the opening of the first of two phases in the Wind Turbine Materials Recycling Prize. In the first phase, Initiate!, DOE invites participants to present innovative technologies that have previously not been applied to recycling of wind energy system materials, as well as technologies that could substantially 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.
Applications for Phase 1 are due on September 29, 2023, at 5:00 p.m. ET. DOE anticipates awarding $75,000 cash prizes to up to 20 applicants in Phase 1.
The Wind Turbine Materials Recycling Prize is led by the Wind Energy Technologies Office in DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and managed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.