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Oh, those pesky wind turbines, running around the countryside cluttering up the landfills with their big old unrecyclable blades. That’s the picture drawn by critics, but not for long. A new scheme is afoot that takes the old blades from a wind turbine and recycles them into new energy storage systems for wind and solar power.

What To Do With Those Pesky Old Wind Turbine Blades

Actually, the wind turbine recycling issue is a bit of a red herring. After all, the fossil energy industry has squeezed who knows how many trillions of tons of raw resources out of the ground, to be used once and never to be replaced, reclaimed, recycled, or reused again, let alone upcycled, unless you count their contribution to global carbon load as a kind of recycling, which is a bit of a stretch.

Nevertheless, the global wind industry is coming of age in an era when public policy and consumer demand are beginning to steer the global economy into a more sustainable, circular form. That pushes wind turbine blade recycling into priority status.

Wind Turbine Blades & The Circular Economy

The typical wind turbine blade lasts about 20 years, which means that a flood of spent blades is about to hit the global market.

Wouldn’t you know it, the US Department of Energy is right on top of the circular economy thing. Last month the agency’s Wind Energy Technologies office ran down some of the wind turbine blade recycling solutions bubbling up through the R&D pipeline and noted that the most effective strategy would be to design recycling and reuse into materials, components, and systems from the very beginning.

“A circular economy for energy materials also means that technology should be engineered from the start to require fewer materials, resources, and energy while lasting longer and having components that can easily be broken down for use in subsequent applications,” the Energy Department explained, citing a new lightening-resistant and erosion-resistant blade coatings developed by the firms Arctura and Resodyn Corp.

In partnership with the firm Arkema, Inc., the National Renewable Energy Laboratory has also been hammering away at a new resin-based turbine blade material that can be reduced to a liquid and reformed into new blades and other items, while reducing  labor and energy inputs.

Better Ways To Recycle Old Blades

That’s all well and good for future generations of wind turbine blades, but what about those in operation now?

Yes, what about them? Fiberglass can be recovered from spent blades, but the range of application is limited because recycled fiberglass tends to lose quality.

The Energy Department has an answer for that, too. They are especially excited about a research partnership between the University of Tennessee and the firm Carbon Rivers, which involves a heat-based method for reclaiming fiberglass from wind turbines and recycling it into a high-value material for various industries including aerospace.

Extending the useful lifespan of old wind turbine blades is also part of the Energy Department’s strategy, including the use of drones and other advanced systems for monitoring, maintenance, and repair.

Hey, What About Recycling Wind Turbine Blades For Energy Storage?

Into this picture steps the Swiss energy storage firm Energy Vault, which has crossed the CleanTechnica radar previously on account of its gravity-based energy storage system.

The Energy Vault concept is similar to pumped hydro energy storage. Instead of storing electricity in a lithium-ion battery or other chemical systems, you deploy excess wind or solar power to raise something heavy upwards. When demand for electricity rises, gravity does all the heavy lifting. You allow your heavy thing — water, or in Energy Vault’s case, 35-ton blocks — to fall back to its starting point, and it generates electricity on the way down.

Pumped hydro is not a new technology, and here in the US it still dominates the energy storage field. Its advantages over battery-type systems include holding massive amounts of energy for long periods of time.

The problem is location, location, location. The Energy Department has been working on new pumped hydro technology that could enable the nation to grow the domestic industry, but for now there are few prospects for constructing new pumped hydro reservoirs in the US.

Energy Vault’s block-type gravity system could help resolve the location issue, since it does not require massive new infrastructure and copious amounts of water. All it really needs is 35-ton blocks, and those could be made from just about anything, including wind turbine blades.

Let The Wind Power – Energy Storage Mashup Begin

And, that’s where the company Enel Green Power comes in. The company, which comes under the Enel Group umbrella, has been aiming to hitch its renewable energy activities to new forms of energy storage, and it is very excited about the potential for Energy Vault to provide a home for spent wind turbine blades.

“The benefits of this solution are the same as those of a pumped storage hydro plant, but at a much lower cost, with greater possibility of being replicated in any geographical context and greater efficiency: the Energy Vault technology can even exceed an efficiency level of 80%,” EGP enthuses.

“Moreover, there are clear benefits compared to batteries: a plant of this type is not exposed to storage medium degradation (no need for augmentation over time), risk of fire, has a long lifespan of 30-35 years and its eventual dismantling will not pose particular difficulties, as the blocks are composed of inert materials and are created directly on site,” EGP adds.

Energy Vault already has a 5-megawatt demonstration facility under its belt, and it recently introduced its new “EVx” configuration that requires 40% less height than its former design. Last week the company signed an agreement with EGP to study the feasibility of a system that weighs in at “a few dozen megawatt-hours,” using material from spent wind turbine blades to form the blocks.

EGP anticipates that the study will greenlight the construction plan for a new Energy Vault project, deploying the new EVx design, in the coming year.

So, What About The Birds?

Yes, what about them? Years before the recycling issue popped up, wind power critics (looking at you, fossil energy lobby) were accusing wind turbines of causing birds to die, conveniently overlooking the fact that wind turbines are a relatively small part of a huge problem.

Practically everything that people make causes birds to die, and the worst offenders by far are buildings, overhead power lines, agricultural chemicals, and various devices used legally for hunting, among other things. For that matter, domestic cats — oh, but why beat a dead horse?

The point is that everything is killing birds. The counterfactual focus on wind turbines began about a dozen years ago and it was picked up and promoted by former President Trump, who promoted the wind turbine canard to help propel himself into office the first time.

It didn’t work the second time, which is good news for the birds, because Trump’s first and only administration spent considerable time and energy on tearing the guts out of a treaty aimed at preventing migratory bird deaths related to fossil energy activities among various other circumstances.

Oh well, water under the bridge. Migratory birds are all but certain to get a share of President Joe Biden’s love for all things sustainable, and new strategies have already emerged for reducing wind power’s relatively small share of bird impacts.

Back in 2003, for example, researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory suggested that simply applying different colors and patterns to wind turbine blades could make a difference. That formed the basis for a long term study that recently demonstrated a significant reduction in risk of collision, especially for raptors.

The US Fish And Wildlife Service’s Avian Radar Project indicates that adjustments to wind turbine locations, hours of operation, and lighting can also reduce risks. Automatic shutdown systems triggered by cameras and other remote devices can help, and researchers are beginning to study how today’s generation of larger, more powerful turbines is also contributing to risk reduction.

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Photo: Energy Vault gravity storage system via Enel Green Power.

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Tesla lowers price of ‘Full Self-Driving’ to $8,000, down from $12,000




Tesla lowers price of 'Full Self-Driving' to ,000, down from ,000

Tesla has once again lowered the price of its Full Self-Driving software by $4,000, now costing $8,000, down from a previous price of $12,000 in the US.

Prices were also lowered in Canada, where the system used to cost $16,000CAD, and now costs $11,000CAD.

In addition to the price drop, Tesla has eliminated “Enhanced Autopilot” as an option, which previously cost $6,000. For owners who already have enhanced autopilot, the cost to upgrade to FSD is now $2,000, down from $6,000.

Tesla has been doing a lot of price cuts lately, including dropping the price of most of its vehicles by $2,000 just a day ago.

It also cut the price of its FSD subscription service in half, to $99/mo, just a couple weeks ago.

That new subscription price suddenly made FSD’s $12k price seem quite steep, as someone would need to subscribe to FSD for ten whole years before paying $12k in total cost – and that’s not including the time value of money.

So it seemed inevitable that people would lean towards subscriptions, rather than upfront purchases, after that price drop.

Now, to make the prices a little closer, Tesla dropped the price of FSD to $8,000 – or 6 2/3 years worth of subscriptions at $99/mo. A little more reasonable, though still longer than many people own a car (and, again, one should account for the time value of money).

All of these prices are down significantly from the highest price FSD has ever sold for, which was $15k from late 2022 until late 2023 when it dropped the price back to $12k.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has repeatedly said that as FSD becomes more capable, it should also go up in price to reflect its greater value. Previously, FSD price increases were largely associated with software updates that added new capability to the system.

Musk even went as far as to say that this means Tesla cars with FSD are “appreciating assets,” potentially worth $100-200k due to their value as robotaxis. Though Tesla only uses those values when it’s convenient, considering FSD much less valuable when offering trade-in estimates to owners.

But on a more practical business level, this move to lower FSD prices probably has less to do with the system’s capabilities and more to do with boosting revenue during a difficult time for the company, having just posted bad quarterly delivery numbers and laying off 10% of its workforce. A lower price could incentivize owners to pony up for software which had previously mostly gone up in price, giving Tesla a free cash infusion.

The system’s capabilities have been changing, too. Tesla has been pushing FSD more lately, ever since the release of the “mind-blowing” FSD v12. The new version changes the system significantly on the back-end, finally using machine learning neural nets to analyze Tesla’s vast amounts of driving data to teach cars how to drive themselves.

With Tesla’s confidence in the new system, the company rolled out a free one-month trial of FSD to all Teslas in the US, basically encompassing the month of April.

It has also started calling the system “Supervised Full Self-Driving,” a somewhat self-contradictory name that nevertheless is more accurate given that FSD is still a “Level 2” system that does not ever actually take full responsibility for the dynamic driving task (that only happens with level 3+ systems, like Mercedes’ DRIVE PILOT or Waymo).

Today’s price drop hasn’t been echoed in all other territories. It’s still listed at £6,800 in the UK and 59,600kr in Norway, same as it was before today’s price drop. FSD has generally been somewhat cheaper in Europe than the US after taking into account exchange rates, because it also has more capabilities in the US than in other countries, but after today’s price cuts, it’s actually more expensive in some EU countries (like the UK, where exchange rate puts it at ~$8.4k USD equivalent) than in the US, despite lower capabilities.

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First ever electric semi truck rides into Mexico with SDG&E




First ever electric semi truck rides into Mexico with SDG&E

San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) says the maiden voyage of their Class 8 heavy-duty electric semi marks the first time an electric semi has crossed the border hauling a standard load, marking an important milestone as the two nations move toward a net zero future.

The electric semi truck – one of 11 Peterbilt 579EV Class 8 trucks bought by San Diego-based Bali Express last year – made its first trip to Mexico carrying an unspecified load of goods through the Port of Entry at Otay Mesa, which connects Southern California to the city of Tijuana, Mexico.

Bali Express’ electric trucks will utilize SDG&E’s recently activated HD charging infrastructure to provide “reliable and affordable” electric freight options for medium and heavy-duty EVs crossing the US/Mexico border.

The SDG&E-powered chargers were partially funded through a $200,000 grant from the California Energy Commission’s Clean Transportation Program. That program has put more than $1 billion to alternative fuel and vehicle technology projects designed to improve public health while bringing both environmental and economic benefits to communities throughout the state.

Those sentiments were echoed by San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria. “The historic crossing of this electric freight truck symbolizes San Diego’s commitment to innovation, cross-border cooperation and our binational community,” said Gloria, in a statement. “We’re not just reducing emissions, we’re building a cleaner future for people living near our border, and leading the way in international trade and environmental responsibility.”

Meanwhile, Executive Director of SDG&E Caroline Winn called the new charging corridor, “an example of how collaboration can create new and innovative ways to rethink how to move transportation systems toward electrification.”

The Peterbilt 579EV trucks have an 82,000 lb. GCWR and is powered by the same 670 hp Meritor 14Xe “epowertrain” used in the PACCAR Kenworth t680e that debuted back in 2022. That system integrates electric motors and drive axles into a single unit, making it easy for manufacturers to electrify their fleets by maintaining existing (re: ICE) axle mounting hardware.

The big Petes have approx. 150 miles of range and are capable of fully charging their massive, 400 kWh batteries in about 3 hours.

Electrek’s Take

San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) and Bali Express have announced the maiden voyage to Mexico of a U.S. Class 8 heavy-duty electric truckload; image by Bali Express, via Mexico Now.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has approved a landmark plan to end the sale of gas-powered vehicles by 2035. And, while California is just one state, it’s important to remember that, as California’s fleets go, so too go the fleets of Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Washington State, and others.

If we’re lucky, the whole country will be electric-only well before then.

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Liebherr electric excavator reaches million ton milestone, scores more orders




Liebherr electric excavator reaches million ton milestone, scores more orders

This massive Liebherr electric excavator reached a major operational milestone earlier this month when it moved its one millionth tonne of dirt. And now, its buyers want more!

That’s right, gang – since we first covered the converted mining excavator back in January it’s been hard at work. And now, after its initial 90 day “break-in” period operating at partial capacity while the site team familiarized themselves with the new tech, it’s operating at full speed at Fortescue’s Christmas Creek mine in Western Australia.

The Liebherr is working so well, in fact, that Fortescue is planning on order two more examples of the mighty electric earth-mover.

“This is such an exciting milestone for Fortescue and our decarbonisation journey. Importantly, we’ve been able to achieve this while maintaining our high safety standards,” says Fortescue Metals CEO, Dino Otranto. “We will have two additional electric excavators commissioned by the end of April. Once we decarbonize our entire fleet, around 95 million liters of diesel will be removed from our operations every year, or more than a quarter of a million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.”

Big work needs big power

Liebherr and Fortescue repower R 9400 excavator to electric configuration
The repowered Liebherr R 9400 E excavator at Fortescue’s Christmas Creek mine; via Liebherr.

Moving more than a million tons of earth and rock takes a lot of energy. To keep its batteries topped off, the re-powered Liebherr R 9400 E electric excavator operates off blend of renewable solar power and a 6.6 kV substation pumping electrons through more than two kilometers of high voltage trailing cable.

Eventually, though, Fortescue plans to power its equipment completely from sustainable sources. “In line with our commitment to eliminate emissions across our mining operations,” reads the company’s statement. “The intention is that all electrified mining equipment will eventually be 100 per cent powered by renewable electricity.”

Electrek’s Take

Because Liebherr takes a modular approach to building its larger mining equipment, repowering a diesel-drive excavator like the R 9400 can be completed in a matter of weeks; courtesy Liebherr.

Covering an electric pilot program is always fun, but all too often the results of these initial experiments aren’t publicized – or else, don’t directly lead to sales. To their credit, Liebherr is lucky to have a customer in Fortescue that’s willing to put their cards on the table here, trumpeting the re-powered excavator’s success and even announcing its plans to order two more electric machines publicly.

They won’t have to wait long, either. Because Liebherr takes a modular approach to building its larger mining equipment, a diesel-drive excavator like the R 9400 can be completely re-powered to electric in a matter of weeks.

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