Closing the Loop on Composites Recycling
In the past 50 years composite materials have revolutionnized a lot of industries, making new and efficient designs possible in the boating industry, for aerospace, printed circuit boards, wind turbines, cars etc.
The problem is, that at the end of their 30-40 years life cycle, composite materials have to be incinerated or landfilled, because the fibers cannot be separated from the resin. Thousands of old wind turbine blades and millions of old boats need to be disposed of, and are piling up in landfills and incinerators at an exponential rate.
The three founders behind Composite Recycling GmbH developed a solution to this growing environmental issue: The composite materials are first processed using pyrolysis (heating without oxygen to prevent combustion). The resin turns into gas and pyrolysis oil, the fibers can be recovered.
In order to preserve their lenght and properties, the fibers are not shredded. The startup company has designed a thermal based post treatment to clean these fibers so they can be reintroduced to the production cycle of new composites.
The gas is used to power the unit, which makes the solution self-powered. Plans to make it zero emission are in the works. The pyrolysis oil can be sold to produce new decarbonated plastic.
Composite Recycling GmbH’s proprietary solution has three major impacts:
- Environmental impact: The solution prevents the incineration of composite materials that release highly toxic dust and gases.
It also prevents landfilling of composites that would contaminate the ground with plastics.
- Economic impact: Composite materials have great properties and are very useful in many industries. Being able to keep using them in a sustainable way supports the industries that rely on them.
- Industrial impact: pyrolysis oil enables the development of new decarbonated plastics that aren’t based on petroleum.