A new initiative to develop the next generation of sustainable composite materials and bring together the UK’s composites expertise to quickly turn research breakthroughs into industrial applications was announced today by UK Undersecretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Nadhim Zawahi MP. The initiative was launched at the University of Bristol’s Sustainability Summit 2020, an online event taking place from 29 June to 3 July.
Led by the National Composites Centre (NCC) and the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) Sustainable Composites is a partnership between industry, academia and government that will harness the UK’s world-leading composites research and technology development capabilities to capitalise on this rapidly growing circ. €2.2 bn global market for end-of-life recycling.
Richard Oldfield, Chief Executive at the NCC, said: “We have the expertise in the UK to take the lead in developing the technologies and processes that make composite materials a net zero carbon alternative. By joining forces with CPI in this initiative, we are bringing together our engineers, our technologies and our network of universities and companies to build a robust supply chain in the UK.”
Composites are in high demand by manufacturers developing the next generation of lightweight, super energy-efficient planes, cars and wind turbines. Compared to metals and other materials, composites are lighter, stronger, more durable, longer-lasting, and allow more flexibility in design. Yet, of the 110,000 tonnes of composites produced in the UK each year, currently only 15% will be reused or recycled at the end of their life
Today’s advanced composites are complex structures comprising layers of materials and resin that are heated and compressed to create the materials. Whilst they can increase the lifespan of products by decades and reduce their environmental impact, unpicking these elements in a recycling process is difficult, and current recycling techniques often degrade the material’s performance, reducing their value and offering limited applications. In addition, more than 95% of composites are made from raw materials and resins that are derived from oil, making them unsustainable.
Sustainable Composites is set to address these challenges by accelerating the development of new recycling technologies in the UK while simultaneously creating new sustainable composites made from bio-based materials including vegetable waste, corn, nutshells and algae.
The Sustainable Composites partnership will deliver a series of R&D projects that bring together companies across the composites supply chain – from materials manufacturers, to chemical suppliers, manufacturers, and recycling companies. The projects aim to identify and mature new technologies, investigate new material feedstocks (such as bio or waste), and develop the product design and manufacturing processes that enable these new materials to quickly enter the supply chain and be successfully recycled at the end of their life.
“The Sustainable Composites partnership builds on successful pilot projects delivered in close partnership between industry and the research and technology community,” said Frank Millar, CEO at CPI.
The “Steam to Value Stream” project is investigating how an innovative steam process developed and patented by B&M Longworth, an SME based in Blackburn, UK, can be used for reclaiming resin and fibres from a composite component. The team will then explore how these materials can be used in the HiPerDiF technology developed at the University of Bristol – a novel fibre realignment process that takes discontinuous short fibres and aligns them into ready-to-lay composite tapes to be used in aerospace, automotive and wind turbine manufacturing.
The “Bio-Bolster” project will explore bio-derived resins for high volume manufacturing applications, and includes developing an understanding of supply chains, design requirements and performance characteristics to produce a novel material with less impact on the environment.
Ed Goodman, Programme Lead for Sustainable Composites, said that composites are already supporting sustainability and helping companies meet their low carbon goals.
"Composites are making aircraft more fuel-efficient, increasing the range of electric vehicles, and helping companies build huge wind turbine blades to power our homes. This initiative will harness our world-leading composites research and technology capabilities to make zero impact composites a reality," he concluded.