Is coal used to make wind turbines?

  • By: Preetam
  • Date: May 6, 2022
  • Time to read: 4 min.

Does renewable energy mean the electricity generated was sourced from ‘naturally replenishing’ sources and without fossil fuels, but are wind turbines completely free of coal?

Perhaps not.

What materials are used to make wind turbines?

The main ‘ingredient’ to build wind turbines is steel (71-79% of the total turbine mass).

Then there’s 11-16% of its mass made from fiberglass, resin, and plastic.

Lastly , 5-17% of a turbine’s mass is made up from iron, copper and cast-iron materials.

But is there any coal that is part of a wind turbine?

1.       Part of a turbine’s make-up is melting fiberglass and carbon fiber into a resin. This resin helps make the turbine blades lightweight as well as incredibly strong. But this resin needs liquefied petroleum gas or natural gas to create heat – which is a fossil fuel

2.       Coal’s by-product coke (not to be confused with the cola) is used to make steel which is fundamental in wind turbines: as said earlier, it’s 70% of the turbine’s mass

3.       Coal is used in cement kilns for the wind turbine’s foundational cement base structure

Wondering if wind turbines use coal is similar to asking,

Do wind turbines use fossil fuels?

A fossil-fuel-free production system is yet to exist. Fossil fuels like coal are so ingrained in our human processes that it’s hard to determine something like 100% renewable or environmentally friendly.

There are so many points in the production of wind power that use diesel fuel (which can be a byproduct of coal)

–          Freight trains and cargo ships transport the cement, plastics, and steel products to construct the turbines

–          Large trucks transport turbine blades and structural materials to the wind farm site

–          Excavators and tractors beat a path to otherwise inaccessible high ground,

–          Large cranes help build up the turbines

And the above doesn’t even add in the extra fossil fuels used in

–          Powering the electric tools needed in construction

–          Transporting the workers and builders of the wind turbines

It is important to understand that to construct a single 5-megawatt turbine, metric tons of coal and fossil fuels are used in the process.

There’s no denying that wind turbines require oil and coal to generate their ‘renewable’ energy. But just because they are not free of coal doesn’t mean they use coal to make electricity.


How Does a Wind Turbine Work:

A wind turbine (in its most simple form) is the exact opposite of a fan – instead of using electricity to spin, it spins to create electricity.

A wind turbine uses the naturally occurring force of wind energy to create electricity. This happens because the turbine uses the aerodynamic nature of the rotor blades, which work like an airplane wing or helicopter rotor blade.

(in case you forgot how an airplane works)

When the wind flows across the blade, the air pressure on one side of the blade decreases. The difference in air pressure across the two sides of the blade creates both lift and drag. The force of the lift is stronger than the drag and (and in the case of the wind turbine), this causes the rotor to spin.

The rotor blades connect to the generator, and as the blades spin, there is a translation of aerodynamic force to rotation of a generator, and THAT is what creates electricity.

Wind turbines can be built and used wherever there is enough wind energy to channel.

Do turbines use coal to create electricity?

In the construction and building of the wind turbines, there are a lot of coal by-products used. 

But this is only because so much of human technology still relies on fossil fuels in almost every process.

One day, when there are alternative transport fuels, construction technologies, and innovations that go beyond coal and ‘coke’, wind turbines may be built without using coal. 

But for now, much of the wind turbines are made from steel and resin that relies on coal and fossil fuels to be made.

But a wind turbine does not need coal or fossil fuels once it is constructed. 

It harnesses the natural solar energy on the planet and generates coal and ‘fossil free’ electricity.