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Wind turbines create clean energy, but challenging waste too

Wind energy leaves a 162 foot long carbon footprint every time a turbine blade is changed. Some scientists are working to recycle those huge parts.

SWEETWATER, Texas — From Brownsville to the tip of the Texas panhandle there are wind turbine churning enough electricity to light 3.5 million Texas homes. 

"The fuels is free. Wind is free" says Benny Etheridge, with CPS Energy.

CPS currently gets about 11% of its electricity from wind turbines. Wind energy may be the way of the future, but right now it is creating pollution no one apparently thought about. 

Wind turbine blades and housings have a life expectancy of 20-25 years. up to 40,000 of those components have reached their end of lifespan, or are expected to over the next 15 years. 

The problem is, there are thousands already just laying on the ground across the state. Many have already been buried in landfills in places like Wyoming and Iowa. Until fairly recently there was no way to recycle them, but a couple of companies are changing things.

"At the end of the life of such great energy supply method, you end up putting those blades in landfills then you just missed the whole point of renewable energy" says Julie Angulo, the Vice-President of Veolia North America.

Veolia has come up with a way to cut, crush and shred the wind turbine waste into a fuel cement manufacturers burn in their kilns, then use the ash in place of silica or potash in cement.

The recycling serves three purposes. It eliminates the need for fossil fuels, cleans up the turbine waste and eliminates the need for mining silica. 

Another company, Carbon Rivers, has come up with a process called pyrolysis. They superheat the materials, without oxygen, which reduces it to oil that can be burned as a fuel. They then recover 99.9% pure fiberglass which is then sold to automotive, boat and other manufacturers to create new products. 

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