With the UK's rapid transition towards net-zero emissions, efforts are now being made to create a sustainable, circular economy for end-of-life wind turbines, solar panels and other green technologies.
EMR, a global leader in sustainable materials, is committed to working with the energy industry to deliver this.
As Energy Infrastructure Lead, Charlotte Stamper has arrived at EMR with direct experience of how the renewables sector operates and has been tasked with ensuring that the resources used for the switch to clean power are safeguarded for generations to come.
“The pressure is now on the renewables industry, not only from an environment perspective, but also practically. Global supply chains have experienced significant disruption and this is having severe knock-on effects for deployment of new infrastructure. My role at EMR is to use my knowledge of these companies, what’s influencing them and then translate that into a new circular supply chain,”
It requires a cultural shift for a sector that has previously been solely focused on growth, she adds:
“When renewables were first introduced, they were comparatively expensive, and every policy and market mechanism put in place was designed to achieve cost parity between green energy and fossil fuels. Now that the industry is on the cusp of enormous worldwide growth, it's imperative that the supply chain is supported to ensure we can make renewable power more sustainable.”
From high-quality construction steel, copper and other metals to a range of rare earth elements (such as praseodymium and dysprosium), modern wind turbines contain a wealth of materials which, if they cannot be sourced from recycled channels, must be mined.
“Mining – particularly of rare earth magnets – is incredibly nature depleting, something often overlooked when it comes to the overall footprint of renewables infrastructure,”
With the latest off-shore wind turbines now built to a scale that almost matches The Shard – and thousands of these turbines due to be constructed and installed in the North Sea over the next few decades – the issue of how to eventually recycle them is increasingly urgent.
“The first renewables assets installed in the UK are now approaching the end of their usable life and, so far, there hasn’t been too much thought given to decommissioning,”
“We now have a huge opportunity. We know that the scale of renewable energy infrastructure is going to increase significantly, and we should be adapting the design of this technology so it can be easily dismantled and recycled.”
It's rare to hear somebody talk about the legacy of their work in terms of decades or generations but Charlotte goes one better.
“Even after we meet our net-zero target, the UK will continue to invest in renewables and develop this technology for the next 100, 200 or even 300 years. There is still time to make decisions now which will have a massive impact.”
Such long timescales seem apt for someone who started out studying for a PhD in vulcanology.
“I eventually realised I had to stop going on field trips to the Caribbean and get myself a real job. My first role after my PhD was at a sewage treatment works where we ran a number of businesses and projects, including using human and food waste as an alternative to fossil fuels,”
This included developing the ‘Poo Bus’, powered with the use of… well, you can probably guess.
This unique experience is an example of how Charlotte has always searched for innovative new ideas and the latest scientific advances throughout her career. And it will undoubtedly be this attitude that is required as she embarks on the first steps of a centuries-long project to make renewable power more sustainable:
“The opportunity that EMR has to be at the forefront of this change is so exciting. There really isn’t a circular economy for this technology anywhere in the world and we have the opportunity to be the ones who get there first.”