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Composite Recycling

Niculae George-Daniel Perederic Ionut-Cristian

1. Introduction 1.1 MATERIAL FOR RECYCLING 1.2 BENEFITS OF RECYCLING COMPOSITES 2. Recycling processes 2.1 Structure of recycling system for composite materials 2.2 Recycling of thermoplastic matrix composites

2.3 Recycling thermoset matrix composites

2.4 Recycling status in aerospace industry 3. Applications of recycled composites

4. Conclusions

Composite materials (based on matrix) Ceramic



Polymer Thermoplastic-matrix composites Thermoset-matrix composites


The steady increase in the use of composites has brought benefits in many areas (aerospace, defense, wind energy). Most composites use thermosetting resin matrices which can not easily be recycled in contrast to thermoplastics for example which can be re-melted. Although it is hard to find statistics of the total global composites production, it was estimated with an output of 7 million tons in 2000 and could have reached 10 million in 2006. GFRP production was about 0.15 million tons in UK and Ireland in 2007. We will be using the following abbreviations GFRP and CFRP. (glass / carbon fiber reinforced polymers)


EOL composites

Manufacturing scrap (new scrap) composites

Cured graphite and Kevlar pre-preg and edge trimming from cured molded parts. The pre-preg material is scrap material that is generated when patterns are cut out of the sheets of pre-preg material.

The edge trim material consists of layers of pre-preg material combined with other structural components.


Potential for recovering the reinforcing fibers from the expensive composite materials, and because of the almost infinite life of the scrap material when disposed in landfills. Because the cost of virgin reinforcements is prohibitive, by developing uses for ground composite materials as reinforcement for plastic resin systems that currently do not use reinforcement, this waste stream can be diverted profit; recycled raw material that is.

Increasing use of carbon fiber composites in both military and commercial aerospace industries.


EOL products

Collection and transportation

Collection and transportation

Separation of composites (Recycling EOL products)

Waste composites (old scrap)

Composite recycling (mechanical, thermal, chemical)

Recyclates: (fibres, fillers, matrix material, fuels)



Ability to be re-shaped upon heating can be recycled directly by remelting and remoulding high value materials Mechanical breakdown reduction of tensile strength and Youngs modulus, but increased failure strain and better moisture resistance

Expensive product tooling and significant energy input in heating and cooling the tooling obstacles for market development low amount of waste low budgets for R&D to develop recycling processes


2.3.1. Mechanical recycling

Mechanical recycling process starts with the size reduction of the composite scrap (to 50100 mm)
The size is then further reduced down to 10 mm to 50 mm through a hammer mill or other high speed millings for fine grinding. Mechanical recycled composites are used heavily in the automotive sector as filler reinforcement materials . Recyclate fibres have poor mechanical properties

2.3.2. Thermal recycling

Thermal processing of the composite waste can include 3 types of operations: (1) Incineration or combustion for energy recovery only. (not classified as a recycling technology) (2) Combustion for fibre and filler recycling with energy recovery. (3) Pyrolysis with both fibre and fuel recovery.

The fluidised-bed recycling process has been mostly studied for both combustion and pyrolysis Fluidised-bed combustion recycling process

Developed at the University of Nottingham.

Used to combust the resin matrix as energy and to recover the glass or carbon fibres. Recovered glass fibres suffer from 50% tensile strenght reduction, but retain their stiffness.(if processed at 450C) Recovered carbon fibers show strength loss of about 20%, retaining original stiffeness.(when processed at 550C) Pyrolysis recycling process.

Pyrolysis is a thermal decomposition of polymers or depolymerisation at high temperatures of 300800 C in the absence of oxygen, allowing for the recovery of long, high modulus fibres.

Both the reinforcement fibre and the matrix materials are recovered.
Control of temperature and residence time in the pyrolysis reactor is important. Carbon fibers processed in this way retain 90% or more of their original mechanical properties.

Pyrolysis Residue

Recovered Glass Fibre

2.3.3. Chemical recycling

Involves the process for chemical depolymerisation or removal of the matrix by using chemical dissolution reagents for liberation of fibres.
The chemical recycling process can re-generate both the clean fibres and fillers as well as depolymerised matrix in the form of monomers or petrochemical feedstock. The re-generated fibre retains most of its mechanical properties.

2.4 Recycling status in aerospace industry

2.4.1 Recycling efforts Boeing
In 2006, Boeing and 10 other aerospace companies formed the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association (AFRA) with a common commitment to improve the way retired aircraft are managed. AFRA is dedicated to the concept that end-of-service is not end-of-life.

Boeing has started testing recycled carbon fibre in nonstructural components of commercial airplanes and military aircraft.
Boeing suggest that carbon fiber can be recycled at approximately 70% of the costs to produce virgin fiber. $15$30 per pound against $8$12/lb for recycled carbon fibre.

2.4.2 Recycling efforts Airbus

In 2005, Airbus established its process for advanced management of endof-life aircraft with the objective to increase the amount of aircraft recycled material upwards to 90% Both, Boeing and Airbus, utilise a pyrolytic process for fibre recovery from the matrix.

The aerospace industry is expected to generate a stable potential for 10 15 million pounds of carbon fibre recyclate.
By 2029, it is estimated that there will be more than 50 million pounds of carbon fibre to be reclaimed.


Anti-static paints and coatings

Thermoplastic polymers conductive, anti-static and reinforced

EMI shielding Epoxy coatings in floatation modules Non-wovens High-temperature insulation

4. Conclusions
What the industry needs to reach this goal industrially and commercially : Better technologies to recycle fibres, fillers and/or matrix materials. Availability of composite scrap versus economy of scale of recycling operation. The compatible quality of the recyclates with the existing composites markets. The environmental regulations on landfill and incineration of the composite materials. The overall cost and new environmental burdens in the recycling technology. Profitability and sustainable operation of recycling business.