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Routes to Recycling or Disposal

of Thermoset Composites

Steve Pickering
School of Mechanical, Materials and Manufacturing Engineering
Presentation Outline

Need to Recycle
Problems in recycling thermoset composites
Recycling/Disposal Processes
mechanical recycling
thermal processing
Future Prospects
Need to Recycle

Pressure from legislation

EU Directives
End-of-Life Vehicles
Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment
Construction and Demolition Waste
Recycling Heirarchy
Prevent waste
Does not measure
Reuse product recycling quality
Recycle material (environmental benefit)
with material and energy recovery
with energy recovery
without recovery
Problems in Recycling Thermoset
Technical Problems
Thermosetting polymers cant be remoulded
Long fibres
Mixtures of materials (different compositions)
Collection and Separation
Recycling Processes for
Thermoset Composites

Mechanical Thermal
Recycling Processes

Powdered Fibrous Combustion Fluidised
fillers products with energy bed process
(potential recovery
reinforcement) (and material
utilisation) Clean fibres Chemical
and fillers products,
with energy fibres and
recovery fillers
Mechanical Recycling

Size reduction
Coarse primary crushing
Hammer milling followed by grading to give:
Coarser fractions (reinforcement rich)

All scrap material is contained in recyclate (incl. different

polymers, contamination, paint.)
Mechanical Recycling

Recycling into new composites

Powdered recyclate useful as a filler
(up to 25% incorporated in new composite)
Coarser recyclate has reinforcement properties
(up to 50% substitution of glass fibre)

Several companies have been founded to commercialise

recycling ERCOM (Germany), Phoenix Fiberglass (Canada)
Mechanical Recycling

Recycling into other products

Compounding with thermoplastics
Production of reinforcement with recyclate core to allow
resin flow during impregnation
Using recyclate to provide damping (noise insulation)
Alternative to wood fibre
Thermal Processing
Combustion with Energy and Material Recovery
Calorific value of thermosetting resins ~ 30 MJ/kg
Co-combustion with municipal waste in mass burn incinerators
Co-combustion in cement kilns
Co-combustion with coal in fluidised bed
Thermal Processing
Combustion with energy recovery
Calorific value depends on
inorganic content
(10 - 30 MJ/kg)
Filler effects:
CaCO3 1.8 MJ/kg
(+800 C)
ATH 1.0 MJ/kg
Cleaner than coal
Bulky ash remaining
Thermal Processing
Combustion with energy and material recovery
Cement manufacture
energy recovery from polymer
glass and fillers combine
usefully with cement minerals
fuel substitution limited to <10%
by boron in E-glass

Potential savings <20/tonne of GRP used

Thermal Processing
Combustion with energy and material recovery
Fluidised Bed Coal
(Limestone filled composites)
energy recovery from polymer
limestone filler absorbs oxides of
sulphur from coal
commercial trial undertaken
Thermal Processing Fluidised Bed Process

Clean flue gas

To energy recovery

Scrap CFRP
Afterburner Cyclone 300 mm

Recovered Fluidised
Fibre Bed
Electric Pre-heaters Air distributor
Air Inlet
Fluidised Bed Processing Materials and Energy Recovery

FRP Clean Flue Gas
Fibres and
fillers carried in
gas flow
Fluidised Separation Heat
of fibres Combustion
Bed and fillers Chamber Recovery

Recovered Recovered
Fibres Recovered
Fluidised Bed Operation
Temperature: 450 to 550 deg C
Fluidising air velocity: up to 1.3 m/s
Fluidising medium: silica sand 1mm

Able to process contaminated and

mixed composites
eg: double skinned, foam cored, painted
automotive components with metal inserts
Recovered Glass Fibres
Strength: reduced by 50% (at 450 C)
Stiffness: unchanged
Purity: 80%
Fibre length: 3 to 5 mm (wt)
Reuse of Recycled Glass Fibre
Moulding Compounds
Moulding - virgin glass fibre
Only effect is 25%
reduction in impact
no change to
processing conditions
components produced

Moulding - 50% recycled glass fibre

Outline Process Economics
Glass Fibre Recycling

Commercial Plant Schematic (5000 tonnes/year)

Outline Process Economics
Glass Fibre Recycling

5,000 tons/year Capital 3.75million

Annual costs: 1.6 million

Annual Income: 1.3 million

Breakeven throughput: 10,000 tons/year

Fluidised Bed Process
Clean flue gas
To energy recovery

Scrap CFRP
Afterburner Cyclone 300 mm

Recovered Fluidised
Fibre Bed

Electric Pre-heaters Air distributor

Air Inlet
Carbon Fibre Properties
Tensile strength
reduced by 25%
Little change in
No oxidation of
carbon fibres
Carbon Fibre Properties Fibre Quality

Fibre surface quality similar

to virgin fibre
Clean fibres produced


100 m
Recovered Fibre Composite
Fibres made into polycarbonate composite

Strength Stiffness
Thermal Processing Combustible Gases to
heat reactor

Pyrolysis Process

Scrap feed gases
Reactor Condenser

Solid Products Solid and

(fibres, fillers, char) Liquid
Thermal Processing
Pyrolysis Processes
Heating composite (400 800C) in absence of air to give
hydrocarbon products gases and liquids
Some char contamination on fibres
Hydrocarbon products potential for use as fuels or chemical
Low temperature (200C) catalytic pyrolysis for carbon fibre

Gasification limited oxygen no char, fuel gases evolved

Thermal Processing

Products from Pyrolysis (450C)

Polyester Composite (30% glass fibre, 7% filler, 63% UP resin)

6% Gases: CO2 & CO (75%) + H2, CH4 .

40% Oils hydrocarbons, styrene (26%).

15% Waxes phthalic anhydride (96%)..

39% Solids glass fibre & fillers (CaCO3), char (16%)

What is best Recycling Route??
Established hierarchy and ELV Directive favour
mechanical recycling techniques but are these the
best environmentally??
Detailed Life Cycle Analysis needed to identify
environmental impact
Recent project in Sweden (VAMP18) has
considered best environmental and cost options for
recycling a range of composites
Prospects for Commercial Success?
ERCOM and Phoenix viable levels of operation not
Recyclates too expensive to compete in available
Need to develop higher grade recyclates for more
valuable markets
Legislation and avoidance of landfill are new
driving forces
Value in Scrap Composites

Energy value of polymer 30/tonne

Value of polymer pyrolysis products
Maleic Anhydride, Bisphenol A 1,000/tonne
Value of filler 30/tonne
Value of glass fibre 1,000/tonne
Value of carbon fibre 10,000/tonne
New Initiative

EuCIA (GPRMC) initiative

ECRC (European Composites Recycling Concept)
Scheme to fund recycling to meet EU Directives
A guarantee that composites will be recycled
A range of technologies is under development
material recycling
thermal processing
Key barriers to commercial success are markets at
right cost
Need for environmental analysis to identify best
Future legislation is driving industry initiatives
Fluidised Bed Process

Recycled Carbon Fibre Life Cycle Analysis

Coal Crude Oil Lignite Natural Gas Other Recovered

Energy use for



recovery process is

Energy (MJ/kg)

10% of virgin fibre 50

Carbon Fibre Production Fluidized Bed Recovery

Coal Crude Oil Natural Gas Lignite Other Recovered Energy

40% to 45% energy 150

reduction observed for 100

Energy (MJ/kg)

recovered fibre 50

Virgin Carbon Fibre Equivalent Stiffness Equivalent Strength