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  • Writer's pictureNed Patton

Advances and Current Trends in Composites Recycling


JEC World 2023 Was All About Recycling

I’m going to turn again to sustainability and recycling of composites. This is because it is not only critical for the future of the industry and our planet, it is also the hot new thing in the composites industry. The picture above is copied from Composites World (https://www.compositesworld.com/articles/jec-world-2023-highlights-recyclable-resins-renewable-energy-solutions-award-winning-automotive) from their report on JEC 2023. JEC is a not for profit organization headquartered in Paris that started writing a composites newsletter in 1963. In 1965 the Group put on their first composites conference in Paris. Since then, this group has been putting on conferences on a fairly regular basis. And, in 2016 JEC Group put on their first JEC World conference in France. Since that time nearly every year JEC World has been held, and it has grown to become the largest all composites conference in the world. This year (2023) JEC World was all about sustainability and recycling of composites. That’s why I chose this pic to lead off this post. Since JEC World is the largest composites conference in the world, and since this year they focused almost entirely on sustainability and recycling, this proves that sustainability and recycling of composites is now becoming mainstream.

So, for this week, I’m going to highlight some of these efforts that are underway and that are reaching commercialization. The first one that I need to mention is a partnership between two companies in Denmark, Ørsted and Vestas to construct nearly carbon free offshore wind turbines. Ørsted is going to supply the low carbon steel towers and make wind turbine blades from recycled composites from Vestas. These turbines will be installed offshore in joint offshore wind projects off the coast of Denmark. Vestas is a composites recycling company that is making a business out of recycling end of life wind turbine blades, as well as other carbon fiber composites. They then sell the recycled composite material on the open market as feedstock to make new products out of recycled content.

This is not the only example of the new trend in recycling and sustainability of composites. PRF Composite Materials in the U.K. recycles carbon fiber composites by using recycled chopped carbon fiber mat impregnated with PRF’s epoxy resins systems. They call this product Reepreg because it is a standard pre-preg chopped carbon fiber mat, only it uses recycled carbon fiber to make the mat. And it comes in standard weights ready to use as a pre-preg. It apparently drapes well, and is less expensive than pre-preg made from virgin carbon fiber.

And, let’s not forget about Toray – the largest carbon fiber and composites fiber manufacturer in the world. They have developed a process for recycling a glass thermoplastic (glass fiber reinforced polyphenylene sulfide – PPS – resin waste) wherein they save the PPS in a form that can be reformulated into new thermoplastic to be used in a new composite. They sell this resin system on the open market and say that it has at least 50% recycled content, and retains as much as 90% of its original strength. And, since it is much less expensive to make, this recycled PPS is not only less expensive than virgin PPS, it is also headed in the direction of being carbon neutral. Currently the PPS that Toray sells that has the recycled content has a 45% lower carbon footprint than PPS made from petroleum feedstocks. There is a European company TREU which supplies PPS resins to customers in Europe that is promoting this product as Ecouse Torelina. Apparently Ecouse is Toray’s worldwide brand for their recycled products.

Fortunately, it is not only European and Asian companies that are actually making money recycling composites and selling the recycled material as feedstock into the composites manufacturing industry. A company in Denver Colorado, Vartega, just cut the ribbon on a new 82,000 square foot facility completely dedicated to scaling up their carbon fiber recycling technology. As it turns out, the demand for their product exceeded their capacity for production so they had to build and put in to operation a very large brand new facility. Vartega is an example of one of the larger success stories in recycling and reuse of end of life composites. The fact that their process produces a product that because of its high quality and low cost bodes quite well for the future of the composites recycling industry.

One more example of a resin recycling process that is successful enough that it is being scaled up is a new process developed by Asahi Kasei and Microwave Chemical Co. in Japan. These two partners have developed a process for chemically recycling of polyamide 66 (PA66) using microwaves. Rather than being a chemical process like solvolysis, the process developed by these partners uses microwave energy to break the polymerization bonds in PA66 and reduce this material back down to its original monomers, hexamethylenediamine (HMD) and adipic acid (ADA). Their process results in high yields with very little energy input, making it extremely efficient. This considerably reduces the greenhouse gas emissions of the process for making PA66 monomers, since all they need is an electrical input rather than chemistry to perform this feat. And, once they scale it up they plan on using renewable energy for their electrical source, further reducing the greenhouse gas emissions and putting them on a path to being carbon neutral.

That is at least a smattering of the newer trends and commercialization efforts going on in recycling of composite materials. As you can see, there is a lot going on, and there are a number of companies that are turning end of life composites into a revenue stream and even building their entire companies around recycling of composites, all while reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon footprint of the composites industry. This is a very welcome trend and a sign that we are on the right track.

That’s about it for this week. Please take a look at my website, www.nedpatton.com, and remember that my book is going to be out in print (and electronically) in August of this year. The presale link is here: https://mcfarlandbooks.com/product/The-String-and-Glue-of-Our-World/. This newsletter will as usual be posted on my website as well as on LinkedIn. But if you would like a copy emailed to you as soon as I post it, please sign up with your email address on my website.

I’ll be back next week with a new one. Until then, I hope everyone has a great week.

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