Search anything

Close search

What if… decommissioning a wind farm becomes a gold mine of resources?

03 October 2023

Vattenfall | Windpark Moerdijk
A decommissioned wind farm starting a new life in a different guise with the help of smart, creative designers? Dutch Design Foundation and the international energy company Vattenfall are taking on the challenge. The social issue was formulated in the What If Lab: What if… decommissioning a wind farm becomes a gold mine of resources? To this end, the partners are looking for a system designer, industrial designer and an urban architect to come up with creative solutions and future scenarios in the transformative journey towards fossil freedom, as Vattenfall’s Thomas Hjort puts it.

Wind turbines in a wind farm have an operational lifespan of thirty years. But what happens to the dismantled parts of these wind turbines after this? Thomas Hjort from Vattenfall in Denmark is the passionate director of Offshore Wind Innovation and is involved in the green energy transition. “We have the technical expertise in-house”, says Hjort, who trained as an engineer, “but we are looking for a creative mindset to bring a different perspective, input from sparring partners who have complete freedom to come up with ideas that we wouldn’t have considered.”

As such, Vattenfall is breaking away from what it usually does and embarking on a substantive collaboration with DDF in the What if Lab. The energy company ended up here because, as far as Hjort knows, there are no other comparable programmes in which Vattenfall’s innovation teams can join forces with creative design talents to discover new paths and tackle important issues, and thus work towards an energy transition and a sustainable future. 

I believe in the realisation of fossil freedom.

Thomas Hjort, Vattenfall Denmark

As the movement towards an energy neutral system progresses, the demand for fossil-free electricity is increasing. To meet this growing demand in a sustainable way, the use of wind turbines is crucial. The number of wind turbines that have reached the end of their lifespan will increase in the coming years. From a technical viewpoint, they can be recycled by dismantling them into their original material components, so that the parts can be reused. “Although recycling is a step in the right direction, it also uses a lot of energy”, admits Hjort and his innovation team. “We believe there is untapped, hidden potential in directly reusing those components. We’re already doing a lot, but we can do better and be more creative,” he is convinced. That’s where designers come in: they are challenged to develop scenarios that breathe new life into the wind turbines, to maximise their lifecycle with minimal energy input, thus creating a sustainable and cost-effective circular economy. They will start with the eighty wind turbines in a small wind park in Denmark that are ready for a new, second life. 

This is how Vattenfall wants to jointly contribute to a future in which everyone can live, travel, transport and produce fossil-free. It is the company’s ambition to no longer use fossil fuels such as coal, oil, natural gas or peat, or fuels derived from fossil fuels in the production of electricity or heat by 2040. “These aren’t just words. It is actually our business strategy. It goes further than purely our own energy and heat production, as we are also investing in collaborations with other sectors and industries”, he says. Our collaborations in e-mobility and hydrogen as a fuel are contributing to fossil-free travel and transport, and we are contributing to fossil-free production in building materials such as fossil-free steel and cement and aluminium with near-zero emissions. 

A glimpse of the future scenarios that have come from the minds of the creatives in the What If Lab will be presented at the kick-off in Microlab during Dutch Design Week.