Ed Pilpel is the president for Polystrand, a wholly owned subsidiary of Gordon Holdings, Inc., and has over 35 years of experience in composites manufacturing, product development and composites recycling and re-use. Pilpel’s team offers green solutions for transportation, automotive, ballistic protection, air, cargo and pipe industries. His focus is on developing thermoplastic composites that eliminate waste, are recyclable and environmentally friendly. Pilpel also currently serves on the American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA) Green Composites Committee and the Recycling Subcommittee. He will be one of several industry experts presenting at its Green Composites Workshop, held June 21-22 in Chicago.

What does “green” mean for Polystrand in the world of composites?

We believe composites offer a variety of practical solutions. It’s not OK to say the composites industry is “green” because of a product’s long term durability. Eventually we will have to deal with an end of life situation for every composite. Green to us means: once the product is made, how can it be re-used? Our team is identifying ways to recycle all levels of materials from scrap, to re-use of materials, and eventual re-use of a product at the end of its useful life.

Are recycled or post-consumer composites weaker when used in new applications?

Typically there is some loss in strength and stiffness once a post-consumer product is post processed for re-use. However, in general, recycled composites can be used in products that have lesser performance requirements. It can even be taken one step further by recycling them again to a third life cycle that requires less performance than the original product or the second generation product. For example, we serve the automotive industry in the production of structural bolster plates. These are compression molded, thermoplastic, discontinuous fiber composites that we supply and insert continuous reinforcement. At the end of the product’s life cycle that product can be shredded into a ¾” flake and be compounded into a composite composition that can be compression molded into a structural component that requires less stiffness and strength, such as a pallet or waste container. Then, at the end of the second life that product can be shredded again and compounded with additional thermoplastic and used for injection molded or compression molded automotive parts. The end product is a “green,” stronger, lightweight and more durable product for the automobile. This solution offers our clients a product that has better performance and cost effectiveness.

With such a long life cycle, how are recycled composite materials resourced?

For the most part, recycled composite material processing is early in its development because of durability and life cycle. Composite aircraft materials, particularly carbon, are getting a lot of attention because of the high value of the carbon itself. Several companies both in Europe and the U.S. are recycling carbon composites. At Polystrand, our business model is to develop our customer relationships from the production of the initial component through recycling and re-use of that initial component to produce another end-use application. Ultimately we seek to implement this strategy twice, which will result in 3 full life cycle products, two of which have been made from recycled composites materials.

What are key issues for “greening” the composites industry?

It is a process of common sense. End of life cycle is half the issue while the other half is actual recycling. U.S. manufacturers are behind their European counterparts. Companies in Europe and the U.S. have used several recycled forms of fiberglass in concrete. Yet Europeans are ahead of us in recycling and re-use mindset as well as government regulations. In Europe, the government strictly enforces regulations (perhaps too much regulation in some cases) that promote recycling and adaptive re-use of all materials. In the U.S., there has to be a blend of government regulations and standards, with voluntary standards to offer the best recycling solutions.

What is the future for composites recycling?

The opportunities are truly endless. As long as we focus our energies from initial product development through end use, we can continue to re-use composite materials in all arenas. Markets such as medical and aerospace are opening up even more to composites and the opportunities are staggering. In the big picture of this industry, we need to determine what the LCI (life cycle inventory) truly is, then compare it to the concrete, aluminum and steel industries so that we can be more competitive. Additionally, we need to identify more ways to combine recycled composites with competitive materials (i.e. concrete and steel) for use in infrastructure. Roadways, bridges, plumbing and lighting infrastructure can all be enhanced from the use of recycled composites materials.