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Renewable Energy 34 (2009) 742747

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Life cycle assessment of a oating offshore wind turbine

Jan Weinzettel a, b, *, Marte Reenaas c, Christian Solli c, Edgar G. Hertwich c, d
2, Praha 166 27, Czech Republic
Department of Electrotechnology, Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Czech Technical University in Prague, Technicka
Charles University in Prague Environment Center, U Krize 8, Prague 158 00, Czech Republic
Industrial Ecology Programme, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), 7491 Trondheim, Norway
Department of Energy and Process Engineering, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), 7491 Trondheim, Norway

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: A development in wind energy technology towards higher nominal power of the wind turbines is related
Received 22 November 2007 to the shift of the turbines to better wind conditions. After the shift from onshore to offshore areas, there
Accepted 18 April 2008 has been an effort to move further from the sea coast to the deep water areas, which requires oating
Available online 20 June 2008
windmills. Such a concept brings additional environmental impact through higher material demand. To
evaluate additional environmental burdens and to nd out whether they can be rebalanced or even offset
Keywords: by better wind conditions, a prospective life cycle assessment (LCA) study of one oating concept has
Life cycle assessment
been performed and the results are presented in this paper. A comparison with existing LCA studies of
Floating wind power plant
conventional offshore wind power and electricity from a natural gas combined cycle is presented. The
Wind energy results indicate similar environmental impacts of electricity production using oating wind power plants
Renewable energy as using non-oating offshore wind power plants. The most important stage in the life cycle of the wind
Offshore power plants is the production of materials. Credits that are connected to recycling these materials at the
end-of-life of the power plant are substantial.
2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction the creation of offshore wind turbines. Some argue that the next
step in wind power development is to shift into even deeper water
In this paper, we present a life cycle assessment (LCA) of offshore areas. This requires oating windmills. The advantages of
electricity generation by an offshore oating wind power plant oating windmills are improved wind conditions, reduced land
designed according to a concept of the Norwegian Sway Company. disturbance, and access to a large resource. To oat the windmill
The oating wind power plant is not working yet, but Sway and make it withstand in rough offshore conditions, however, the
Company is in a nal development of their concept. The results are design of the windmills must change and more materials are
compared with Ecoinvent database processes for electricity required for construction. Material production and the construction
production in conventional offshore non-oating wind power of the windmill are already the most emissions intensive steps in
plants and natural gas combined cycle power plants [1,2]. conventional windmills. It is, therefore, necessary to evaluate the
There has been rapid growth in the use of wind power in recent environmental implications of the shift to deeper water.
years, in part because of its perceived importance for sustainable In order to avoid shifting the environmental impact among
development. Wind power is a renewable energy source [3]. In different product life stages and to consider the trade-offs among
contrast to gas and coal power plants, wind power plants convert different impacts, it is necessary to consider the whole life cycle of
wind energy into electricity without signicant emissions or the product within its product system. LCA was developed to
resource consumption during operation. Wind power technology evaluate the environmental impact related to a product from
has improved steadily and costs have declined [4]. The technolog- material extraction and rening, manufacturing, transport and use
ical progress is apparent in the shift to higher nominal power of the phase to the disposal. It is a complex evaluation method, dened in
wind turbines and in the movement to better wind conditions. Refs. [5,6]. It facilitates the collection of data about inputs and
Among the developments are larger turbines, higher towers, and outputs to and from the product system (inventory analysis) and
the environmental performance of these inputs and outputs (im-
pact assessment).
For an evaluation of any renewable energy system it is necessary
* Corresponding author. Department of Electrotechnology, Faculty of Electrical
Engineering, Czech Technical University in Prague, Technicka 2, Praha 166 27,
to use a life cycle based approach because the operating costs and
Czech Republic. Tel.: 420 732 356 531; fax: 420 224 353 949. environmental impacts are nearly zero, but the required
E-mail address: (J. Weinzettel). investments are substantial [7]. Several LCAs have been conducted

0960-1481/$ see front matter 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
J. Weinzettel et al. / Renewable Energy 34 (2009) 742747 743

for onshore and non-oating offshore wind power plants and other Table 1
wind energy systems [813]. These studies have documented that General data about the wind farm

the life cycle impacts of wind power are substantially lower than Functional unit 1 MJ Delivered to onshore area
the impacts of any fossil power plant, and that the energy input Lifetime 20 Years The average technical lifetime of
required to build a wind power plant is earned back in a few whole wind farm.
months. One would expect that these general conclusions also hold Windmills in a farm 40 The number of power plants in the farm
connected to one transition station.
for a oating plant. There are, however, substantial differences
Distance from shore 50 km The average distance of the wind
between oating wind power plants and those mounted on the farm to the shore.
ground. Namely, more steel, and potentially concrete, are required Average load 53% Estimated, according to Sway data.
for the construction of the oating structure, and installation and Nominal power 5 MW Nominal power of one wind turbine.
maintenance require the use of both ships, or rigs, and helicopters. Transition station 1 There will be one transition station for
whole wind farm.
This raises the question of how important the additional material
requirements and the changed operating regime are in the overall
life cycle. Will the increased power production due to stronger
winds be able to offset these environmental disadvantages? from the coast. This ensures the windmills cannot be seen or heard
from the shore.
2. Life cycle assessment of a oating wind power plant The tower is submerged under the sea level. The bottom part is
lled with olivine ballast and helps to balance the windmill. The
We present a process-based LCA of an offshore oating wind upper part under the sea level is lled with air and serves to oat
power plant according to the concept developed by Sway Company the windmill. There is one mooring point created from stones on
[14]. The product system is modeled using SimaPro [15], a software the sea bottom and the windmill is connected to it by a torsion leg.
tool for LCA. Wherever possible we use relevant data based on The structure above the sea level is the tower with the wind turbine
information directly from producers. For generic inputs we use the on the top. It is assumed that there will be a wind farm of 4050
Ecoinvent database [1]. windmills that will last for 2030 years [14].
CML 2 baseline 2000 V2.03 method was chosen for impact
assessment [16]. Marine ecotoxicity impact category was excluded 2.1.1. General data for LCA
because it was found to give misleading results [17]. All important general data about the wind farm is given in
The results are compared to the Ecoinvent database processes Table 1. The model of the system includes one wind farm, which
for electricity production from a conventional offshore wind power consists of 40 oating wind power plants, one transformer station
plant and a natural gas power plant. Our study, however, does not to transform the electricity to 170 kV and offshore cables to deliver
include any secondary materials. Instead, it includes an end-of-life the electricity to the coast.
scenario in which the metals are recycled and the product system is The system is dened to include environmentally important pro-
credited for the avoided material production. Ecoinvent, in cesses from raw material extraction, production, transport, use and the
contrast, does not include such a recycling, but does include end-of-life of the wind turbines. This is a process LCA which models
secondary materials. For comparison purposes we also present the environmental impacts of materials, some important forming
a calculation with the system boundaries used by Ecoinvent. processes, and transportation. It does not take into account the entire
forming process or the overhead of design and business services.
2.1. Floating wind power plant (system description)
2.2. Inventory analysis
The specications for the oating windmill were provided by
Sway [14]. Further information was obtained from its suppliers.
The inventory analysis1 is based on the process ow chart of the
Nexans [18] produces offshore cables and Multibrid [19] produces
wind power plant, shown in Fig. 2.
the wind turbine. Fig. 1 illustrates the power plant, which is
designed to be installed at a depth of 100300 m, and up to 50 km
2.2.1. Tower production
The tower is modeled to be made of 1000 tons of low alloy steel
and 5 tons of high alloyed steel. Included processes are sheet rolling
and welding. The transport is assumed as 500 km by truck and
1500 km by boat. Processes and materials were found in the
Ecoinvent database except highly alloyed steel production which is
taken from ETHESU database [20].2

2.2.2. Ballast production

The ballast is assumed to be made of 2500 tons of gravel. The
distance of the transport is 500 km and a boat is used. All processes
were found in the Ecoinvent database.

2.2.3. Nacelle production

The nacelle is made from 200 tons of low alloy steel. The
transport is modeled as 200 km by truck and 1500 km by boat. All
processes were found in the Ecoinvent database.

The inventory data is aggregated and presented in Table 3 in Appendix I.
ETHESU is based on the same approach as the Ecoinvent database. All pro-
cesses from ETHESU database have negligible contribution to the environmental
Fig. 1. Floating windmill according to Sway concept. impact of the parts were they are used, and hence also in the whole system.
744 J. Weinzettel et al. / Renewable Energy 34 (2009) 742747

Fig. 2. System description process ow chart.

2.2.4. Generator production tons). The mooring will be transported by a freight boat at a dis-
Since it was not possible to nd any appropriate data for the tance of 500 km. At the end-of-the life of the wind farm, the
generator production process, the Ecoinvent unit process was mooring will be left on the sea bottom.
scaled by 2.5 (the ratio between the weight of the generator for a 2-
MW turbine and a 5-MW turbine). 2.2.11. Cable production
Cable production includes both the cables connecting in-
2.2.5. Blade production dividual power plants with the transition station and also the
The blades are assumed to be made of reinforced plastics. The cables connecting the transition station with the shore. Since
weight of each blade is 16.5 tons. The rotor is composed of three there was no specic data for the production process and only the
blades. The distance for transport is assumed to be 700 km by boat. material composition and total costs estimation, the production of
All processes were found in the Ecoinvent database. materials is taken from the Ecoinvent database. The environ-
mental impact from production and installation is estimated using
2.2.6. LV transformer the input output table (IOT) with environmental impact
A low voltage (LV) transformer3 is placed in nacelle to transform information [23,24]. This approach is based on the average data
the output voltage of the turbine to a higher level for distribution to for each economic sector. The input output table is a matrix of
the transition station. The transformer is modeled according to monetary ows between economic sectors. The environmental
ABBs Environmental product declaration [21].4 information includes emission coefcients for the economic
2.2.7. Assembly
The assembly is modeled based on the data provided by Sway 2.2.12. Transition station
[22]. The impacts are mainly related to fuel and energy The transition station is modeled as one more tower for the
consumption. windmill, mooring, ballast and HV transformer. The data for the HV
transformer was found in ABBs Environmental product declaration
2.2.8. Transport to nal location [25].
The transport to the nal location is modeled according to data
provided by Sway [22]. Towing boats tow the nished windmill to 2.2.13. End-of-life scenario
the nal location. The distance is assumed to be 100 km. This The windmill will be dismantled and most of the materials will
process is modeled as fuel burned in the towing boats, because be recycled. The recycled material replaces virgin material and
there is no complete life cycle data for towing boats available. hence avoids environmental impacts from the production of new
materials. The material value at the end-of-life can be credited to
2.2.9. Maintenance the present life cycle in an approach called system expansion
Regular inspections are made three times a year by a helicopter. [26,27]. The process is modeled using a process identical to
Irregular inspections once a year for each windmill are also assembly. The tower with nacelle and generator will be transported
included. The production of two more windmills for the wind farm 400 km by train to the recycling plant. Ninety percent of the steel
(5%) is included in order to replace broken windmills. Once in its from the tower is assumed to replace pig iron. Ninety percent of the
lifetime each windmill is assumed to be transported to the harbor copper except the copper in the cables will replace copper
and back to the location of the wind farm. production. The blades are assumed to be transported 100 km by
truck and land lled. Eighty percent of the ballast will be trans-
2.2.10. Mooring ported 100 km by truck and it will replace gravel.
For modeling of the mooring, a process identical to ballast
production is used (except that the weight of mooring is only 500 3. Results evaluation of the Sway concept
oating power plant

The life cycle inventory of the aggregated unit process Sway
The name low voltage transformer is to distinguish it from another trans-
former (high voltage transformer) which is placed in the transition station and
5 MW oating wind power plant is provided in Table 3 in
which is working at higher voltage level. Appendix I. This inventory is an intermediate step in the calculation
The data in ABBs report was scaled according to the power of the transformer. of the LCI, as the input of Ecoinvent processes is required.
J. Weinzettel et al. / Renewable Energy 34 (2009) 742747 745

Table 2
Results of LCA study in different impact categories in their equivalent units/1 MJelectricity

Impact category Unit Sway oating Sway oating Ecoinvent wind Electricity, natural Normalized results
wind power plant 5 MW wind power plant 5 MW power plant 2 MW, gas, at combined of Sway power
modieda offshore cycle plantb plantc
Abiotic depletion kg Sb eq 2.4E05 2.70E05 2.8E05 1.0E03 1.4E14
Global warming (GWP100) kg CO2 eq 3.2E03 3.40E-03 3.8E03 1.2E01 1.3E14
Human toxicity kg 1,4-DB eq 2.3E02 2.70E02 1.5E02 1.3E02 1.2E13
Fresh water kg 1,4-DB eq 3.2E03 3.10E03 3.0E03 5.5E04 6.8E14
aquatic ecotoxicity
Terrestrial ecotoxicity kg 1,4-DB eq 6.5E05 1.10E04 4.8E05 2.2E05 4.2E13
Photochemical oxidation kg C2H4 1.7E06 2.00E06 1.3E06 8.7E06 1.0E12
Acidication kg SO2 eq 3.2E05 3.90E05 2.1E05 9.2E05 7.0E14
Eutrophication kg PO4 eq 3.4E06 3.40E06 2.8E06 1.2E05 6.8E15
This column contains results of Sway company oating wind power plant without end-of-life scenario and using the same ratio of secondary steel as the Ecoinvent
processes in order to make them comparable. The Ecoinvent processes do not include any recycling at the end-of-life, but includes approximately 40% of recycled steel. The rst
column of this table represents LCA results in accordance with the system description in previous section. No secondary steel is used, but at the end-of-life, almost 80% of the
materials are assumed to replace virgin materials, which results in a positive environmental impact. For more details see Section 2.2.
The full name in the Ecoinvent database is Electricity, natural gas, at combined cycle plant, best technology/RER S.
Normalized results in different impact categories are not related to any equivalent unit. The results represent how important the specic category is.

The impact assessment results are presented in Table 2. global warming. Given the prospective nature of this study and the
We also present an analysis of the contribution of different incomplete system boundaries in both studies, the difference
processes to global warming, abiotic resource depletion and human between the two power plants is not signicant.
toxicity. The largest contribution to global warming comes from the There are two signicant differences in the life cycle of oating
low alloy steel production for the tower (47%), followed by the cable and offshore wind power plants: the materials used in production
production (14%) and chromium steel production for the wind and the capacity factor. The construction of the oating wind power
turbine (13%). The end-of-life scenario contributes 19% due to plant requires more materials to make it oat and balance correctly.
avoided production of the new raw materials. The low alloy steel Hence, the tower is longer and partly lled with ballast material.
production for the tower also presents the largest contribution to The total weight of the steel used for a oating tower is 1000 tons
abiotic resource depletion (57%), followed by chromium steel compared to 140 tons for the tower for a 2-MW wind power plant
production for the wind turbine (14%) and low alloy steel [11]. The difference in the weight of the generator and other
production for the nacelle (12%). End-of-life scenario contributes components is compensated by higher nominal power (5 MW
36% due to avoided products. For the Human Toxicity Potential, compared to 2 MW).
copper production is the most important process with 71% of the The ratio of full load (capacity factor ratio between nominal
impact. Copper recycling at the end-of-life contributes 29%. The power and average power during operating stage) in rough deep
copper in cables contributes 43%, and the copper in the generator water areas further from shore is assumed to be 53% rather than
25%. Chromium steel contributes 30% and low alloyed steel in the 30% for the comparison process in the Ecoinvent database. In the
tower 17%. It can be concluded that the production and disposal are Vestas LCA study, 54% of full load [11] is assumed for offshore wind
the most important phases from the product life cycle. power plants, but that is without assuming any failure and
The energy payback time is an important indicator for renew- expecting very good wind conditions at Horns Reef in Denmark.
able resources. It represents the operating time which is needed to The environmental impact for one functional unit decreases with
produce the same amount of energy as is needed for the whole life higher full load, because the electricity production is not directly
cycle of the renewable resource. For this purpose, the impact related to any impact. The impacts during the lifetime are divided
assessment method called Cumulative Energy Demand is used [28]. by the number of functional units delivered to net during whole
It gives a result which includes the total energy used in the whole lifetime. The ratio of the full load depends mainly on the wind
life cycle of an analyzed product or process. For the oating wind conditions and the average operational time without failure. The
power plant the cumulative energy demand is 0.054 MJeq/ deep water locations are interesting because of a potentially higher
1 MJelectricity. This means that for each MJ of electricity, 0.054 MJ of capacity factor.
fossil energy is used, or that it takes 13 months for the power plant It can be concluded that offshore and oating concepts are
to produce as much energy as it requires during its whole life. The comparable to each other, but signicantly different than a natural
wind power plant, however, produces electricity, which is more gas combined cycle power plant (Table 2). In comparison to
valuable than fossil fuels. Assuming a conversion efciency of 40%, a natural gas combined cycle power plant, the oating power plant
the nal energy payback time is 5.2 months. For comparison, the is worse in all three toxicity categories (human toxicity 2 times
energy payback time in Vestas LCA study [7] is between 6 and 7 higher impact, fresh water ecotoxicity 5.6 times higher impact,
months. and terrestrial ecotoxicity 5 times higher impact), but much
To evaluate the effect of moving from offshore to a oating better in abiotic depletion impact category 37 times lower impact,
concept, a comparison with the offshore wind power production in global warming impact category 35 times lower impact, photo-
the Ecoinvent database [2] was conducted. For a consistent chemical oxidation 4.4 times lower impact, acidication 2.4
comparison, we present analysis results excluding the disposal times lower impact and eutrophication 3.5 times lower impact.
phase, but using the same ratios of the secondary materials for
production as the Ecoinvent process. The results are presented in 4. Conclusion
Table 2.
As it can be seen, the oating concept has higher impacts in the Our preliminary life cycle assessment shows that the environ-
categories photochemical oxidation, human toxicity, terrestrial mental impact of electricity production from a oating wind power
toxicity, eutrophication, and acidication. It is equivalent in fresh plant does not signicantly differ from electricity production in
water toxicity, and abiotic depletion and has lower contributions to conventional offshore wind power plants if we assume a better
746 J. Weinzettel et al. / Renewable Energy 34 (2009) 742747

capacity factor for the oating power plant. The only exception is Table 3 (continued)
the toxic emissions from material production. Marine ecotoxicity Material Amount/power Unit Amount/ Unit
has not been investigated due to a lack of appropriate methods, and plant MJ
we have not collected data on direct marine emissions connected to Waste treatment processes
the installation and maintenance of the power plant. This is Disposal, polyvinyl chloride, 3.69E03 kg 2.23E06 kg
obviously a signicant gap given to the marine location of the municipal incineration
Disposal, used mineral oil, to 3.00E04 kg 1.81E05 kg
power plant.
hazardous waste incineration
In addition, we found that the end-of-life scenario of the Disposal, glass, to inert 1.22E05 kg 7.36E05 kg
wind farm is very important for the overall environmental im- material landll
pact of the electricity production. A signicant positive effect Disposal, plastics, to 3.82E04 kg 2.30E05 kg
can be reached if recycled materials replace newly produced municipal incineration
Disposal, polyethylene, 7.10E01 kg 4.28E08 kg
materials. The more valuable the replaced materials, the higher municipal incineration
this credit will be.
CO2 4.98E05 kg 3.00E04 kg
CH4 1.55E03 kg 9.34E07 kg
N2O 1.47E02 kg 8.86E08 kg
This work was partly nanced by the EU project number SO2 1.11E03 kg 6.71E07 kg
CZ.04.3.07/ and Marie Curie Fellowship for the Life NOx 5.00E03 kg 3.01E06 kg
Cycle Assessment course within the Postgraduate School of NMVOC 1.50E03 kg 9.04E07 kg
CO 1.63E03 kg 9.80E07 kg
Industrial Ecology (EU contract 029529). The most important data
NH3 6.93E01 kg 4.17E08 kg
were provided by the Sway Company. PM10 2.13E02 kg 1.28E07 kg
PM2,5 1.83E02 kg 1.10E07 kg
Appendix I Lead 1.33E01 kg 7.99E11 kg
Cadmium 8.75E03 kg 5.27E12 kg
Mercury 1.50E02 kg 9.04E12 kg
Table 3 Arsenic 5.00E02 kg 3.01E11 kg
Aggregated inventory data for the process Sway oating wind power plant 5 MWa Chromium 2.03E01 kg 1.22E10 kg
Copper 1.16E01 kg 6.99E11 kg
Material Amount/power Unit Amount/1 Unit
PAH, polycyclic aromatic 4.50E02 kg 2.71E11 kg
plant MJ
Steel, low alloyed 1.41E06 kg 8.47E04 kg Dioxin, 4.00E07 kg 2.41E16 kg
Steel, high alloyedb 5.25E03 kg 3.17E06 kg 1,2,3,7,8,9-hexachlorodibenzo-
Gravel 3.23E06 kg 1.94E03 kg a
All processes and materials which are included within the system boundaries of
Copper 5.85E04 kg 3.53E05 kg
LCA study are listed in this table.
Lubricating oil 7.51E04 kg 4.53E05 kg b
These processes are taken from the ETHESU database [18].
Aluminum 2.25E03 kg 1.36E06 kg c
These emissions are derived from inputoutput table, which is used in the in-
Chromium steel 1.35E05 kg 8.17E05 kg
ventory analysis for cable production process.
Glass ber 5.21E04 kg 3.14E05 kg
Lead 1.29E04 kg 7.78E06 kg
Polyethylene 1.45E04 kg 8.72E06 kg
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