Wed, 09 November, 2022
We are pleased to announce the launch of the Innovate UK-funded EMPHASIZING Project to investigate the circularity of glass fibre composite materials.
Composite materials are being used in nearly every industry sector due to their excellent material properties and lightweight performance. With decades of use already, 2.5 million tonnes of composites are used each year in the renewable energy sector alone.
Glass fibre reinforced plastic (GFRP) makes up the majority of the global £54.5 billion composites market and estimates state that 12-15 tonnes of GFRP is used per MW of power produced. The construction, infrastructure and transport sectors are also large-scale users of GFRP, accounting for 70% of the one million-plus tonnes of GFRP produced annually in Europe alone. In addition, the wind energy sector is expected to decommission 40,000-60,000 tonnes of composite wind blade material over the next two years, further adding to the amount of GFRP waste.
The increased use of glass fibres has led to concerns over how they are disposed of as waste. The tonnes of composite materials waste containing valuable glass fibres need to be recycled cost-effectively and with a minimal environmental impact to allow for circularity, if the sector is to meet net zero ambitions.
Much of this waste material globally is currently going to landfill or being incinerated. The EMPHASIZING Project will address this environmental issue by developing a viable value chain to recycle and exploit these waste materials for future use within the automotive sector.
The project will assess, process and analyse materials from wind turbine blades, as well as automotive and marine parts to create roadmaps for recycling. The consortium, of which TWI is a member, will work to demonstrate the concept of a circular economy for fabricating automotive end products from upcycled glass fibre materials. This upcycling will include a technical step change from established processes such as pyrolysis and solvolysis in the form of emerging technology DEECOM®, a form of pressolysis to enable the high-yield reclamation of high-quality, clean, reusable fibres, that are free from residues and have a retained length and properties akin to virgin materials. The recovered, clean fibres will then be upcycled through re-sizing, giving them increased performance properties much higher than glass but at a similar cost. It’s hoped that through finding several use cases for this material, the industry will have access to a brand new, advanced material, on-shored and readily available, at a low cost.
The new products will feed into plans for a sustainable future for composites use as they look to become a ‘go-to’ material for the automotive industry with a transition through a new generation of vehicles with fewer metallic parts.
The EMPHASIZING solution will include the introduction of low-cost, high-quality and high yield reclaimed fibres for production to support the vision for this new generation of vehicles with increased composite use from 2030 and beyond.
EMPHASIZING is led by Longworth, with TWI joining fellow project partners EMS Chemie, Ford, Gestamp UK, Gen2Plank and Brunel Composites Centre: Brunel University London.
You can follow EMPHASIZING progress through to 2024 on lead partner, Longworth’s Linkedin page.
The Emphasizing project has received funding from Innovate UK under No 10035094