Upcycled Turbines

Client: Vattenfall
Domain: Circularity, energy

Applications are now closed
As the move towards a zero-energy system progresses, the demand for fossil-free electricity will increase significantly. At the same time, there is an increasing demand for energy. To meet these growing needs in a sustainable manner, the deployment of wind turbines is crucial. Wind turbines in a wind farm have an operational life of 30 years. But after this, what do we do with the dismantled parts of the wind turbines? Vattenfall is working with designers

One possible option for Vattenfall is to recycle the machines by dismantling them into their original material components for possible reuse. However, this process of reprocessing for a second life involves additional energy costs. While simple recycling is a step in the right direction, the innovation team within Vattenfall recognises that there is untapped potential in directly reusing parts from these decommissioned wind farms.

The parts of decommissioned wind turbines hold the key to unlocking a transformative vision. Hence the question: what if… decommissioning a wind farm becomes a gold mine of resources?

For this purpose, Cepezed, Superuse, Chris Kievid en Studio Carbon will develop scenarios in which wind farms have a small to no material footprint and in which the energy yield of a wind turbine is maximised over its lifetime.

Justine Kontou

Lab manager

Do you have any questions regarding this What if Lab? If so, please contact Lab Manager Justine Kontou, via justine@dutchdesignfoundation.com

Read the briefing



As we move to net zero, demand for fossil-free electricity is going to increase significantly. The electrification of transport, industry and heat is expected to require at least double the current electricity generation. In the face of this increasing demand for energy in the future, deploying wind turbines is crucial to meet these growing needs sustainably. Wind energy is Europe's second-largest energy source, just behind natural gas. Vattenfall, a forward-thinking international energy company, is deeply committed to making a positive impact on the environment. Their focus extends beyond just circularity; they actively explore and embrace academic research on circular design principles to drive innovation in the renewable energy sector.

Currently, when wind turbines in a wind farm reach their approximate 30-year operational lifespan, Vattenfall could potentially recycle the machines by breaking them down into their original material components for potential re-use. However, this process involves additional energy costs to reformulate the materials to give the turbines a second life. While straightforward recycling is a step in the right direction, the Innovation team at Vattenfall recognises that there is untapped potential in directly reusing components of these decommissioned wind farms.

The components within the retired wind turbines hold the key to unlocking a transformative vision: What if decommissioning a wind farm became a gold mine of resources? The Innovation team envisions a future where wind turbines' second life is maximised with minimum energy input, creating a sustainable and resourceful circular economy. Thereby creating wind farms with no material footprint and maximising the energy output of a wind turbine in its lifespan.

To achieve this vision, Vattenfall seeks to redefine the approach to wind turbine decommissioning, focusing on preserving the integrity of the materials and reducing energy consumption that would have been used to break the materials down. They believe there must be better ways to extend the life of the materials that make up wind turbines and find innovative avenues to extract the full value of the components used in their construction.

The potential benefits of this ambitious design challenge are far-reaching. Not only can upcycling significantly contribute to reducing the footprint of sustainable energy solutions, but it can also alleviate the strain on natural resources by promoting high-end reuse. Additionally, the locality of solutions plays a crucial role, as reducing transportation distances further minimises the carbon footprint associated with the entire process.

As the Innovation team at Vattenfall embarks on this journey, they call upon designers to apply their creativity and expertise in shaping a future where decommissioning wind farms becomes an opportunity for environmental stewardship. By finding better ways to give wind turbines a second life, we can drive the transition towards a cleaner, more sustainable energy landscape and pave the way for a brighter, resource-efficient tomorrow. 

Taking care of recycling was a mere afterthought when building the first wind farms about 30 years ago, something to take care of later. Now, that time has come, and as we want to close the circular loop as much as possible - we want to include new possibilities from unexpected angles. Especially as the amount of decommissioned wind turbines will only increase in the coming years. The farms that need to be decommissioned soon are relatively small (around 80 wind turbines). In 10 to 15 years, we have the turbines of the big wind farms coming our way.

There are some examples, of the reuse of blades – some of which we are also involved in:

-   Blades turned into skis, snowboards and construction materials for solar farms Old Dutch wind turbine blades becomes new skis - Vattenfall

-   In Lund we are supplying wind blades, which are turned into a parking garage: https://www.sydsvenskan.se/2023-07-23/vingar-fran-vindkraftverk-blir-p-hus-pa-brunnshog

-   Vattenfall installeert recyclebare windturbinebladen bij Windpark Hollandse Kust Zuid – Windpark Hollandse Kust Zuid. (vattenfall-hollandsekust.nl)

At the moment, people are treating decommissioning as a waste problem – for which we try to find “nice enough” solutions. But we cannot fill out lands with decommissioned rotor blades to remake play gardens, sound walls, bicycle sheds – and whatnot. Especially because the rotor blades are only 5% of the materials used in the wind turbine.

We would like to see the wealth of resources made available through the decommissioned wind farms as an opportunity rather than a problem.

About Vattenfall

Vattenfall is an international energy company with a clear purpose: to enable a fossil-free world within a single generation. They lead by example, collaborating with industries and governments not only in their home country of Sweden but also in the Netherlands, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Denmark, and Finland.

Their journey started within their own operations, gradually reducing reliance on fossil fuels like coal and embracing clean, renewable energy sources. However, this is just the beginning of their ambitious mission. Realising a truly fossil-free way of living requires broader changes across various sectors – from transportation and industries to our very homes, affecting our daily activities like cooking, washing, showering, and heating.

This is why Vattenfall actively partners with industries, governments, other companies, and most importantly, with their customers – recognising that collective efforts are crucial in achieving their goals. Their unwavering commitment to finding innovative solutions to both major and minor challenges is at the heart of their approach.

With a dedicated team of around 20,000 employees and serving 10 million customers across 8 countries, Vattenfall possesses the technical expertise and determination to make a meaningful impact. They invite everyone to join them on this transformative journey towards a fossil-free future. Together, they believe they can enable a sustainable and free world from fossil fuels. Will you be a part of this mission?

Design question

Imagine a future where decommissioning a wind farm not only serves its environmental purpose but also becomes a remarkable opportunity to unlock a treasure trove of valuable resources. This What if Lab explores the question: "What if decommissioning a wind farm becomes a gold mine of resources?"

We are challenging the participating designers and studios to develop scenarios for reusing wind turbine components that maximise integral reuse and minimise environmental impact.

For these scenarios, participants are encouraged to think beyond conventional methods and consider innovative technologies and practices. How can we harness the components of retired wind turbines to create new, high-value products?

Importantly, design solutions should consider the efficient use of energy during the transformation process. How might we optimise the energy required for recycling and repurposing, ensuring that the net energy gain is positive and that the environmental benefits of wind turbines are not offset by excessive energy consumption? 

This means promoting local solutions is a key consideration. Designers are urged to think about how the proposed second life of wind turbine components can be localised to avoid extensive transportation. By utilising local resources, expertise, and facilities, we can significantly reduce the carbon footprint associated with moving materials and components across long distances. In addition to local solutions, we would like to challenge the designers to assess the economic viability of the recycling aspects. Including the consideration for the policy and regulatory challenges that may arise in this regard.

With new solutions, new challenges arise. Finding new purposes for components means collaborating with new partners outside the energy sector. How might Vattenfall establish partnerships with various industries to utilise the repurposed resources? Could this new approach create jobs and boost local economies, turning decommissioning sites into thriving hubs of innovation and sustainability?

As we embark on this What if Lab journey, remember that your ideas can shape the future of renewable energy. Join us in envisioning a world where decommissioning wind farms isn't just an ecological responsibility but also a chance to unearth a wealth of possibilities.

Who are we looking for?

Designers suited for this challenge possess a unique blend of skills and expertise. They should demonstrate a deep understanding of circular design principles, resource recovery, and innovative problem-solving. They have experience with working at a large scale and are able to think strategically, as this lab requires collaboration among various stakeholders. Designers who excel in teamwork and collaboration so they can effectively bridge the gap between different disciplines to foster a comprehensive solution.

It’s important that the designers consider the socio-economic implications of their design and how repurposing materials and creating local opportunities can positively impact communities and economies.

Designers with different skill sets and expertise can bring different insights and approaches. Therefore, in this lab, we are actively looking for three different types of designers to develop a broad array of possible scenarios: An Industrial Designer, a Systemic designer and an Architect/Urban Designer.  All should be well-versed in circular economy principles and practices.

-    Industrial Designers: Industrial designers with experience in sustainable product design can bring their expertise to develop innovative ways to repurpose wind turbine components and integrate them into new products or industries. 

-   Systems Thinkers: Designers with a system thinking approach can analyse the entire wind turbine lifecycle, from manufacturing to decommissioning, to identify opportunities for efficiency, resource recovery, and circularity. They understand the interconnectedness of different components and processes.

-   Sustainable Architects/Urban Designers: For repurposing wind turbine components into new construction projects or public spaces, sustainable architects and urban designers can play a key role in envisioning how these materials can be integrated aesthetically and functionally. 

Ultimately, designers suited for this challenge are passionate about contributing to a sustainable future, capable of thinking both creatively and critically. They are open to exploring uncharted territory, embracing emerging technologies, and challenging conventional norms to bring about transformative change in the renewable energy sector.


Register deadline

You can apply until 5 October for an interview for the selection process of What if Lab: Upcycled turbines.


After the application deadline of 2023, 6 designers/ design studios will be invited for a introductory interview with Vattenfall. After the interviews, a maximum of three designers/design studios will be selected to participate in the lab. Every designer/ design studio works individually on the design question. As mentioned above, we are looking for a mix of an Industrial Designer, a Systemic designer and an Architect/Urban Designer.


We will invite the selected designers to a master class on 24 October 2023 (during Dutch Design Week 2023). After that, the designers will work independently to develop a concept. Interim meetings are scheduled with the client and experts within Vattenfall to discuss progress and to check criteria, expectations and practical feasibility. Lab Manager Justine Kontou supervises this process on behalf of What if Lab.

First concept presentation

On 16 January 2024, the three selected designers will present their ideas to the panel. Following the feedback from experts within Vattenfall, the designers will have the opportunity to fine-tune their design for the final concept presentation on 19 March 2024.

Final concept presentation

The final concepts will be presented by the design studios at 19 March 2024. Experts and relations from Vattenfall will be present on this day, who will receive a preview of the concepts that will be presented during Dutch Design Week (DDW). After the presentations, the design studios, Vattenfall’s communications team and an external designer will discuss how these concepts can best be presented during DDW.

Exhibition during Dutch Design Week: 19 - 27 October 2024

The concepts/ scenarios of the designers will be shown during DDW. The form of this exhibition will be determined together with Vattenfall, and possibly an external designer based on the final concepts and the best possible way in which they can be presented to the public. We ask the designers to be present a number of times at the exhibition and possible events of Vattenfall during DDW. We will determine how often that will be at a later time in consultation with each other.


Registration and procedure

Designers can register until 5 October 2023, 23.59 via this link. In the registration form, we ask designers for a reference of 3 to 5 relevant, previously completed projects or designs and a motivation for participating in What if Lab: Upcycled turbines, in which you describe how the assignment suits you as a designer (design studio), what your motivation is to participate and where you see opportunities within the design question (max. 800 words). Please let us know which category fits you best; Industrial Designer, a Systemic designer or an Architect/Urban Designer. It is not yet necessary to propose design solutions, but we are curious to hear about your expertise and skills.

A selection of a maximum of 3 designers/ design studios will be chosen after the introductory interviews with 6 different designers/ design studios. The selected designers will be notified on 19 October 2023. The 'Terms and conditions of participation What if Lab: Upcycled turbine apply. This is automatically agreed upon upon registration. The conditions of participation can be found here. The working language of this lab is English.

Critical design elements

There are different design elements that should be addressed in the final concept. They revolve around creating a sustainable, resourceful, and locally impactful approach to reusing components of decommissioned wind turbines. Designers should focus on the following key elements:

- The concept encourages discussion about impactful positive changes
- The concept takes relevant urban challenges into account
- The concept offers an integral and adaptive solution
- The concept is innovative and initiates change
- The concept considers efficient use of energy during the transformation process
- The concept promotes local solutions
- The concept is suited for a large-scale
- The concept is applicable in Dutch regions, and possibly also scalable to other regions/cities in the world


The maximum three selected participants will each receive an amount of €5,000 ex. VAT for attending the masterclass, any travel expenses, developing a concept with associated interim contact moments and a first concept presentation (in addition to the 'live' presentation, also to be shared as a PDF with the clients) on January 16, 2024.

Participants then develop the concept into a design with detailed visualisation for the final concept presentation, which will also be presented during Dutch Design Week 2024 (for example in a model, visualisations or video). Participants receive a compensation of € 7,500 ex. VAT. This compensation is to compensate for the hours worked, travel expenses, associated interim contact moments and the final concept presentation. 

A compensation of € 3,000 per designer is available for the realisation (materialisation) at DDW 2024. Vattenfall takes care of the exhibition design and implements the exhibition, including supporting materials such as screens and presentation furniture. Vattenfall will set preconditions for the presentation, such as dimensions, etc. Designers are asked to give a presentation of their design during DDW during various events organised by Vattenfall. An expense allowance of € 750 per designer is provided for this.

Intellectual property rights

Of the designs developed within the What if Lab: Upcycled turbine, the intellectual and copyright remain fully in the hands of the relevant design studio. Vattenfall will receive a free exclusive right of use for commercial and non-commercial purposes for 2 (two) years, starting from the start of the What if Lab: Upcycled turbine. This may be used after informing the relevant designer(s)/ design studio(s). Vattenfall must also always ensure that your name is mentioned. The design will be shown in an exhibition during Dutch Design Week 2024. An extensive version of the conditions regarding the Intellectual Property Rights can be found in the accompanying 'Terms and Conditions of Participation What if Lab: Upcycled turbine. 




8 September 2023

Open call live

5 October 2023

Deadline open call

6 October 2023

List (10-15 designers/ design studios) for ‘selection panel’ to choose 6 designers/ design studios for introductory interviews

10 October 2023

(9:00 – 11:30 & 15:00 – 17:00)

Introductory meetings with 6 designers/ design studios

11 October 2023

Discuss 6 designers/ design studios with selection panel & make final selection

19 October 2023

Announcing 3 selected designers/ design studios

21- 29 October 2023

Dutch Design Week (DDW) 2023

24 October 2023

Masterclass/ Kick off during DDW

25 October 2023

Start concept development by designers/ design studios

7 November 2023

Update meeting 1

22-23 November 2023

End-of-Life Issues & Strategies Seminar 2023, Eolis, Wind Europe, Rotterdam

28 November 2023

Update meeting 2 | Lab day

12 December 2023

Update meeting 3

16 January 2024

Concept presentation (completion phase 2)

6 February 2024

Update meeting 4 | Lab day

27 February 2024

Update meeting 5

19 March 2024

Final concept presentation at location (to be determined)



After completion of Lab

Shooting video




Explore opportunities for further development/implementation

19 t/m 27 oktober 2024

Presentation of concepts developed in this What if Lab at Dutch Design Week 2024


Apart from these dates, we also recommend the design studios to participate in the following event organized by the industry on the topic of end-of-life in the wind industry: WindEurope EoLIS 2023 | EoLIS 2023


Background info

-   Reference turbine – shows what materials it consists of: https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy20osti/75698.pdf

-   Global Offshore Renewable Map | 4C Offshore






Wind of change in recycling wind turbine blades | TNO



Do you have any questions following this What if Lab? If so, please contact Lab Manager Justine Kontou; justine@dutchdesignfoundation.com.


Justine Kontou

Lab manager

Do you have any questions regarding this What if Lab? If so, please contact Lab Manager Justine Kontou, via justine@dutchdesignfoundation.com

Applications are now closed

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