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Material consumption and environmental impact of wind turbines in the USA and globally
Resources, Conservation and Recycling  (IF10.204),  Pub Date : 2021-09-28, DOI: 10.1016/j.resconrec.2021.105938
Angela Farina, Annick Anctil

Wind power is one of the fastest-growing energy in the world. Its contribution to global electricity generation should increase from 5 to 30% in 2050. With the increasing number of wind farms, we need to ensure that we will have enough material to meet the expected global capacity growth without creating new environmental issues. In this work, we estimated the material demand for wind turbines in the USA and the rest of the world and compared those values with the expected production until 2050. Based on the annual capacity installation, we quantified the carbon footprint and cumulative energy demand associated with the material production. Cement demand in 2032-2036 could be twice as much as the current amount used for wind turbines and pipeline construction in the USA. Compared to 2018, the USA steel demand in 2033 will increase by 511% (from 853 to 5215 kt). Rare earth elements (REEs) demand in the USA will increase by 254%-815% in 2033 (from 0.33 to 1.16-3 kt) compared to 2018. In the rest of the world, REEs demand will be 38% of the Chinese production in 2050. In 2050, the carbon footprint for materials required for wind turbines globally will be 9.3 times lower than the CO2 emitted currently from coal power plants in the USA. It is important to evaluate the potential impact of large-scale deployment of wind energy to avoid as much as possible creating new issues related to material scarcity, which could increase the carbon footprint of future electricity production.