Technological watch

National Composites Centre supports marine industry in bid to tackle composites recycling challenge

The National Composites Centre (NCC, Bristol, U.K.) is supporting a new consortium that has been formed to address the growing challenge of decarbonization and recycling of composite materials in the marine industry and beyond, with a long-term aim to create the U.K.’s first large-scale glass fiber-reinforced (GRP) and fiber-reinforced plastics (FRP) recycling and reuse facility. Here partners will not only look at the process of recycling composite materials but also how the reclaimed materials and fibers could be repurposed for use in new composite components, such as boats, caravans, wind turbine blades and other high-performing products.

Made up of leading marine and maritime companies in the U.K., composites specialists, academic institutions and local government organizations, and led by marine consultancy Blue Parameters (Guernsey, U.K.), the “Blue Composites Project” seeks to address the key environmental challenges facing the U.K.’s marine industry in its transition to zero-emission shipping by 2050.

The NCC says there are an estimated six million boats in the EU alone, 95% of which are made of GRP. Every year, around 1-2% (60,000-120,000) of these boats reach the end of their useful life. Of these, only 2,000 are recycled, while 6,000-9,000 are abandoned. Recycling old boats is reportedly an expensive business, costing an estimated €800 (£706) for a 7-meter (23-foot) boat, rising to €1,500 (£1,324) for 10-12 meters (33-39 feet) and up to €15,000 (£13,243) for boats over 15 meters (50 feet) long. According to the International Marine Organisation (2017), it is both GRP waste from production processes and end-of-life (EOL) products that are a huge challenge, with around 55,000 tonnes of GRP waste produced from the U.K. marine sector every year; this is expected to increase by 10% per year.

“We’re very excited to support this new collaboration. With increasing demand for composite materials in the delivery of net-zero technologies, the NCC is working with a range of organizations to find sustainable solutions for end-of-life [EOL] composites and the associated manufacturing material and consumable waste,” Will Grocott, head of surface transport at the National Composites Centre, says. “We have the knowledge and expertise to drive decarbonization in the composites industry and across sectors. Together, we need get better and smarter, ensuring that the next generation of high-performance composite products enable a cleaner, greener future for us all.”

The technology of focus for the Blue Composites Project is the DEECOM process, developed by British SME B&M Longworth. Originally designed to remove waste polymer from plastics filters and production equipment, the process uses pressurized, superheated steam, to penetrate microscopic fissures in the composite’s polymer. Upon decompression, it expands, cracking the polymer and carrying away broken particles. This pressure swing cycle is then repeated until all the matrix (the material suspended in the polymer) has been separated from the fiber, enabling the monomers to also be reclaimed for possible reprocessing. Crucially, the DEECOM process is also said to “clean” the fibers, leaving the primary component material intact and undamaged. The NCC recently completed a project with B&M Longworth and Cygnet Texkimp (Northwich, Cheshire, U.K.) that successfully reclaimed continuous carbon fibers from a whole pressure vessel using this process and reused them to manufacture a new pressure vessel. This was the first time this process was achieved in the U.K., reportedly representing a significant milestone in the development of the region’s composites recycling capability.

B&M Longworth’s DEECOM technology has been exclusively licensed by British machine builder and composites technology specialist, Cygnet Texkimp. The company is developing it as a tailored solution for the global composites market with applications ranging from marine to wind turbines, automotive, aerospace, rail and construction.

Read: JEC World 2022, Part 2: Recycling, natural fibers and additive manufacturing

“The work of the collaboration is ground-breaking in terms of transforming the way we manage marine composite structures at the end of their current life,” Luke Vardy, CEO of Cygnet Texkimp adds. “It provides an excellent platform to accelerate our development of the DEECOM technology specifically for the marine industry, but will also deliver valuable capability that the entire composites market can learn from in its pursuit of decarbonization and sustainability goals.”

Other companies that have pledged to support and explore these challenges with Blue Parameters, B&M Longworth, Cygnet Texkimp and the NCC are: Scott Bader, Ford UK, Oakdene Hollins British Marine, Gen2Carbon, University of Plymouth, MDL Marinas, Boatfolk Marinas, Maritime UK South West, Truro Recycling, Royal Yachting Association, Peel Ports Group, South Devon College and The Green Blue.

Publication date: 22/06/2022

Composites World (Products)

This project has been co-funded with the support of the LIFE financial instrument of the European Union [LIFE17 ENV/ES/000438] Life programme

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Last update: 2022-01-31