IACMI-The Composites Institute and the American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA) have officially begun a project to develop a robust and scalable composite recycling methodology. As part of the project, ACMA will lead a team consisting of Continental Structural PlasticsCHZ TechnologiesA. Schulman, and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Owens Corning and Ashland, LLC are also providing important support to the project. For decades, a recurring challenge for the composites industry has been to determine a process to recycle both process scrap and end-of-life composites and reduce the volume of composite materials going to landfill. This initiative aims to combat these issues.

“End-of-life composites have a perception of being inferior to competing materials in terms of cradle-to-cradle sustainability because they are difficult to recycle or reuse. This research will counter that perception by providing strong technical evidence to the composites industry for the recyclability of end-of-life composites,” said Tom Dobbins, President of ACMA.

The goal of this technical collaboration is to develop a mechanical and thermal recycling approach that captures both the energy value and residual ash/fiber. This supports IACMI’s goal to create 80 percent recyclability of composites within five years. The objective is to improve the sustainability of composite materials while reducing the amount of scrap and end-of-life composites sent to landfill. This project also supports ACMA’s goal to reclaim glass and carbon fiber from fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) composite materials. The project will study and test CHZ Technologies’ promising pyrolysis technology, which recycles all liquids, tars, and oils from composite materials and converts them into clean synthetic gases while recovering both glass and carbon fibers.

“The Thermolyzer offers a unique opportunity to recycle a vast scale of composite materials, making the integration of composites a feasible and sustainable option for many industries in the future,” said Uday Vaidya, Chief Technology Officer of IACMI – The Composites Institute, and UT/ORNL Governor’s Chair in Advanced Composites Manufacturing.

According to Ed Pilpel, the chairman of ACMA’s Green Composites Council Recycling Committee, ACMA will demonstrate the technology by process fiberglass wind turbine blade samples at a Thermolyzer pilot plant in Germany in the middle of October. This process is also being applied to electronic circuit boards and other difficult-to-recycle products.

“This is the universal first step for recycling composites in our industry,” Pilpel said in the September/October 2017 issue of Composites Manufacturing. “We were looking for a technology that has a positive business case. I’m really excited about this because I feel this is an important step in educating people about large scale recycling of composites and how the technology works.”