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  • Writer's pictureNed Patton

Some Interesting Things Going on with Recycling / Sustainability

There are two articles I read this week about composites recycling and sustainability. Both of these are interesting, and they are in completely different pieces of the entire sustainability landscape for composites.

The first one is a post on LinkedIn about a research institute in Sweden (RISE Research Institutes of Sweden) that 3D printed a kayak using not only recycled bio-based thermoplastic composite pellets, but they also added in harvested plastic waste from the ocean to the mix (https://www.linkedin.com/posts/adaxis-official_adaone-adaone-additivemanufacturing-activity-7097859662611390464-o2DI?utm_source=share&utm_medium=member_desktop).


All finished it looks like this:


This thing was made from a recycled kayak that RISE had 3D printed previously using a composite made of recycled polyethylene and wood waste. They ground that kayak up, added some polyethylene that had been harvested from the ocean mixed with some plant-based PLA from forest waste, made pellets for their 3D printer, and printed this thing. And obviously it worked out rather well.

RISE was working on perfecting their automated design/analysis/3D print fully integrated manufacturing process. They were also showing the world how well recycled plastics work for making new and useful things at a very low cost and without the requirement for extracting the raw materials from the earth.

This is a wonderful example of what can be done with a bit of ingenuity and a focus on demonstrating to the rest of the world that recycled plastics and plant-based reinforcements can make something structurally sound and that people can use. And, personally, I think it’s about time that more companies team up with research institutes in the US to make the dream of a completely circular economy for composites a reality.

The second article that I came across came to me from the ASME Smart Brief (American Society of Mechanical Engineers – I’m of course a long time member) which is a newsletter that ASME puts out regularly highlighting interesting things going on in Engineering and Manufacturing. This particular story (https://www.asme.org/topics-resources/content/using-the-sun-to-capture-carbon-and-address-plastic-pollution) is about using sunlight and recycled plastics to capture carbon dioxide and produce syngas.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge (London) have developed a photosynthetic reactor that can capture carbon directly from the atmosphere and use it along with plastic waste to produce syngas. A picture of their reactor is below.


They have plans to scale this up to industrial size in large reactors sitting out in an open area being fed carbon dioxide and producing syngas. This gas is a good precursor to creating biofuels, bioplastics, and a whole host of things that are made using natural gas from an oil well. Then of course when the syngas is uses as fuel, the carbon dioxide that it produces can be recycled through one of these reactors into more syngas.

This is another example of the development of a completely sustainably circular economy for carbon capture and control of the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. And it kills two birds with one stone, with the use of atmospheric carbon dioxide and waste plastic which can come from anywhere this not only captures carbon dioxide, it also recycles waste plastic. If these reactors are put near a coastline, the waste plastic could be harvested from the surface of the ocean and fed into these things, and we might actually have a chance of cleaning up at least part of the massive amount of plastic that is floating out on the surface of the oceans all over the planet.

That’s about enough for the news for the week. I wanted to let everyone know that I will be presenting two papers toward the end of this year. Both of them are about sustainability of composites – a subject that all of you that have read my posts know is a passion of mine. The first one is a paper about sustainability efforts for composites in general, with a focus on what to do with wind turbine blades. That one is going to be at the International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exhibition in New Orleans October 29 to November 2 (https://event.asme.org/IMECE). The second one will be at the Carbon Fiber Conference in Salt Lake City being put on by Composites World (https://www.carbonfiberevent.com/). In that presentation I will focus on current work in sustainability of carbon fiber in particular. I’m of course going to talk about new fibers and fiber precursors made from plants, so again, focusing on closing the circle.

And, finally, for those of you that have not heard, my book has been published and is for sale. The best place to get one is to go to my website and buy one. I will send you a signed copy for the same price you would get charged on Amazon, except that I charge $8 shipping. Anyway, here’s the link to get your signed copy: https://www.nedpatton.com/product-page/the-string-and-glue-of-our-world-signed-copy. And as usual, here’s a picture of the book, for those of you just tuning in.



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