Glass fiber circularity

A UK-funded consortium has launched a project to research the circularity of glass fiber composite materials.

The Emphasizing project is led by cleaning technology company Longworth, and includes TWI, EMS Chemie, Ford, Gestamp UK, Gen2Plank and Brunel University’s composites center.

According to the group of companies, the wind energy sector is expected to decommission 40,000-60,000 tonnes of composite wind blade material over the next two years, adding to the amount of glass fiber reinforced plastic (GFRP) waste already created by the construction and transport industries. Much of this waste material currently goes to landfill or being incinerated, it said.

Plans are for researchers will assess, process and analyse materials from wind turbine blades and automotive and marine parts to see if they can be “upcycled” to make automotive end products. This upcycling will involve using Longworth’s Deecom process, which uses super critical steam to ‘fracture’ the polymer part of a composite which can then be removed from the fiber.

Longworth says that this can reclaim clean, reusable fibers, that are free from residues and have a retained length and properties similar to non-recycled materials. The recovered fibers can then be re-sized, improving their performance.

“It’s hoped that through finding several use cases for this material, the industry will have access to a brand new, advanced material, on-shored and readily available, at a low cost,” a press release said. “The new products will feed into plans for a sustainable future for composites use as they look to become a ‘go-to’ material for the automotive industry with a transition through a new generation of vehicles with fewer metallic parts.”