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Recycling trends in the composites industry

News International-French

22 Jul 2011

At the beginning of the 1990s, the composites industry in Europe, America and Asia started to become aware of the importance of recycling issues. The first actual recycling activity was carried out by ERCOM in Rastatt, Germany.

(Published on May 2005 – JEC Magazine #17)




ERCOM chose to develop a mechanical method of material recycling, because it is relatively easy to implement and satisfactory from an environmental point of view. When the process can be made cost-efficient enough, it is a good choice.


ERCOM’s success in this area has significantly influenced the composites industry. This recycling method spread in the world during the 1990s and was used, for example, by MCR (France), Miltek (Norway), the R.J. Marshall Company (USA), and some companies in Japan.


The two keys to success with the method are cost efficiency and finding a suitable use for the recyclates. Here, the aim is “part-to-part” recycling. There were two problems with mechanical recycling of end-of-life composites: the recyclate quality was not good enough for re-use, and it was difficult to find a market for the poor-quality recyclate material that was produced.



The cement process

Composites can be divided into three families as a function of their formulation ratios: A, mainly resin; B, mainly glass fibre; and C; mainly fillers (fig.1).



One potential recycling solution for family C is the cement process, where shredded composites are processed completely by burning in a cement kiln. Family C formulations are close enough to those of cement raw materials to be accepted by the cement sector.


The cement process has been implemented successfully, first in trials and then in production. Currently, about 600 tonnes are processed monthly in the Tokyo area. Similar volumes are planned for processing in two other Japanese regions in the near future.


chemical recycling technologies. The one to come up with the best material method for part-to-part recycling would, so to speak, establish the state of the art! Some of the “contenders” are the glycolysis


The cement process is a recognized material recycling method. It is also a successful business, because a high proportion of inorganic materials like calcium carbonate and glass fibre can be recycled into cement. However, it still is not a part-to-part process.




Chemical recycling technologies
In Europe, America and Asia, companies are competing to develop their own process, decomposition under atmospheric pressure, and the critical water process. These processing technologies are currently at the pilot stage. When they reach the production stage, the automotive industry - and many other industries, as well – will regard composites as much more convenient and valuable materials.