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Recycling and the future use of composites in transport

News International-French

22 Jul 2011

Over the past three years, the Composit thematic network on “The Future Use of Composites in Transport” has brought together researchers, designers, manufacturers and end-users of composite materials across the aerospace, automotive and rail industries.

(Published on May 2005 – JEC Magazine #17)




This has been achieved through a series of workshops that have provided a forum for comparison, collaboration and cross-fertilisation between the different sectors. Each workshop has focussed on a specific theme or issue, and recycling has been one of the topics addressed.



According to the findings of the Composit recycling workshop, recycling represents a major barrier to the more widespread adoption of composites by the transport sectors. In particular, the lack of viable end-use applications for recycled composites has been identified as a significant obstacle. This is because the overall cost of recycled materials is typically higher than their virgin equivalents. Similarly, there is some scepticism over the quality and technical performance of recycled reinforcements and fillers in comparison to virgin materials.


Limited quantities

A further consequence of the concerns over quality is that when recycled composites are employed, they tend only to be used in limited quantities. Recycled material contents as low as 20% are common in current applications, with the remaining 80% being attributed to virgin materials. The implication is that new materials are being introduced to the supply chain at a greater rate than recycled materials are being consumed. Should this trend continue, the result will be an ever-growing mountain of recycled materials unless new applications are developed.


The Composit initiative also highlighted the benefits of “design for recycling”. The classification of materials and components in terms of recycling, re-use and energy recovery in the early design stages would ensure that each has a clearly defined fate at end-of-life. Designing for disassembly would further assist this process by allowing discarded components and modules to be readily separated and sorted. There is also a need for environmental requirements to be properly reconciled against technical and commercial constraints as part of the product development process, and for a raising of environmental awareness throughout product supply chains


The benefits of collaboration

Recycling is a common issue in which there is are clear benefits in collaboration. This collaboration might take place across different industries employing composites (e.g. transport, construction, energy production, etc.). Alternatively, the composites industry might usefully collaborate with other sectors that are facing recycling issues, such as the electrical and electronic equipment manufacturers. In this instance, there may be logistical benefits in sharing resources for the collection, dismantling and sorting of end-of-life products. Networking activities such as Composit will also have a role to play in identifying common goals and best practice.