Recycled composite materials: Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is of paramount importance according to Fairmat’s CEO B. Saada

“Recycling advanced materials like carbon fiber composite is one of the strongest actions we can take to accelerate the decarbonization of the manufacturing sector,” declared Ben Saada, Fairmat’s CEO a few months ago. The goals to be fulfilled seem very clear but recycled materials as such need to be clearly defined and there is still a long way to go in this respect. Ben Saada accepted to answer some of JEC Editorial team questions on this subject.

Recycled composite materials: Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is of paramount importance according to Fairmat’s CEO B. Saada

2 minutes, 60 secondes

The definition of recycled materials in the carbon fiber composites sector does not seem to be self-evident. As a recycler, how would you define it?
Ben Saada, Fairmat’s CEO: Depending on the method, the output can vastly differ from one recycled material to another. Customers are becoming very knowledgeable regarding impacts, focusing on Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) rather than non-certified commercial adjectives like “recycled.”  At Fairmat, we care about providing the best material possible from waste, generating minimum environmental impact: high performance, sustainability, and being economically relevant for our clients.  The essence of such materials produced from reclaimed composites and end-of-life parts is to maximize the proportions of recovered Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymer (CFRP) within the new material, to preserve at the very best the original properties while using a conversion process with the lowest CO2 footprint. 

What is the minimum base that should be universally shared and applied in your opinion in order to have a definition in this area? In particular with regard to the ecological footprint of the manufacturing process of these recycled materials?
Ben Saada: The composite industry needs to be more mature in its recycling options and solutions compared to other mainstream materials. Our technical process couldn’t have existed ten years ago due to the absence of technology. Should there be today a new definition of recycling depending on the carbon footprint of the process used or depending on the waste? Probably. Why not a new score on recycling the same way we see it more and more in the consumer goods sector? Consumers should be more aware of the differences between products made from one recycled material to another. The impacts can be huge. In general, we are happy to see a larger part of initiatives from our clients addressing the challenge of treating CFRP waste and decommissioned parts in the most sustainable way. If there is one thing that we praise for is the vast adoption of recycled materials and the avoidance of more carbon footprint.

Engineer working on a molding press during the inauguration of the Fairfactory © Karine Le Ouay

What criteria do you use to price the recycled products that you sell to manufacturers?
Ben Saada: Recycled materials should be much less expensive than virgin materials because we need to recycle a lot and sell to many sectors to recover the last 30 years of landfilling and “incineration” of our industry. We are investing in setting up a 4.0 robotic factory, having in sight the maximization of production efficiency, with a direct consequence to limit the final price.

Which normative texts do you regularly refer to as a recycler besides Reach?
Ben Saada: We are just seeing the beginning of composites recycling, and there are still many things undefined to agree upon in terms of norms. At Fairmat, we focus on Lifecycle analysis (LCA) with pre-defined criteria.

Robot arm carrying out the laying of chips. © Karine Le Ouay

With your “Infinity” range, you promise to adapt the characteristics of the recycled material to specific, tailor-made needs. Is it already available and proven in several sectors or is it still in the development stage?  And if so, how do you take into account the normative aspect?
Ben Saada: We have signed numerous contracts with clients at different stages of development and commercialization. In 2023, several products from the Infinity range made for our customers will be available for public sale. We can’t communicate before them the date of the release. We can confirm that our clients are thrilled with the Infinity product line. We have developed an essential technical support service with the help of our commercial and product teams to reassure our customers regarding the tests performed on our materials and, therefore, their mechanical, aesthetic, and environmental properties. This is done through transparency regarding our test methods, factory, and laboratory visits, and audits once series contracts are signed. Quality and environmental standards are also applicable, and their certifications have the same weight as for any other industry. 

Should you wish to give your point of view on “recycled composite materials”, please contact us at [email protected]

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