Adopting wind and solar energy not so ‘green’
Several recent editions of this paper have covered discussions regarding wind turbines in Penn Forest Township, while the June 9 edition indicated a county environmental center plans to use solar panels as a source of energy. On the surface, they seem like good ideas, as wind and solar power are promoted as being “green” or good for the environment.
However, a recent edition of Chemical & Engineering News, a publication of the American Chemical Society, contained an article titled “Recycling Renewables” (April 9, 2018), which raises serious questions about just how good wind turbines and solar panels are for the environment. The use of these technologies is as questionable as forcing people to use clothes dryers by forbidding clotheslines in their communities or developments under the guise of controlling the carbon footprint.
Increased use of “green” energy alternatives such as wind turbines and solar panels has created a not-so-green situation regarding trash. The article describes how difficult it is to reclaim/recycle old turbine blades and solar panels, as well as batteries from electric cars. Although these technologies are promoted as solutions to global climate change, their research and development did not ensure that they would remain “green” to the end. The experts reported that hundreds of thousands of tons of old wind turbine blades, solar panels and electric car batteries will require recycling over the next decade, and millions of tons by 2050.
Solar panels alone will be responsible for approximately 172 billion pounds of waste volume around the world by 2050. Each solar panel contains between $3 and $13 worth of metals, too little to make recycling profitable. Silicon recovered by recycling the panels is of poor quality, and the presence of heavy metals poses another recycling concern.
Heavy metals (mercury, cadmium, arsenic, chromium, thallium and lead) are poisonous at low concentrations. They are natural components of the Earth’s crust, so a small amount can enter our bodies through food, drinking water and air. At higher concentrations caused by drinking-water contamination, high concentrations in the air near emission sources, or intake through the food chain, they can result in poisoning.
In Europe alone, wind turbine blades will result in over 6.6 million pounds of waste volume by 2038. The wind turbine blades presently have no assessed material value. Additionally, their extremely large weight and size (routinely about 67 yards or longer) plus the low value of the recycled material are major drawbacks to recycling.
The blades are made from thermoset plastics, which strengthen while being heated but cannot be successfully remolded or reheated after the initial heating which forms them. Instead, they will burn when heated after their initial molding. This makes recycling more difficult.
Based on the above data, one compelling question must be answered by those considering or adopting these technologies. Will adding to the global trash crisis really improve the environment?