On May 20 - 21, the American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA) hosted its Composites Recycling Conference 2020 | Online, which was initially planned to be held in Aurora, CO. The virtual event, held over two half-days with three panels and seven sessions, welcomed more than 75 composites industry professionals, manufacturers, suppliers, and distributors to the online event for an exciting education and networking experience that highlighted the latest technology, solutions, advancements and opportunities in composites recycling and sustainability across various applications and end use markets.
The first half-day focused on wind blade recycling. GE Renewable Energy's Michelle Simpson gave a keynote presentation, Sustainability of Renewable Energy: Wind Blade Recycling, that explored GE's efforts to build a more sustainable life cycle that generates zero emission renewable energy for wind blade turbines. Simpson shared that wind energy in the US and abroad grew by 2.5x between 2010 and 2019, and that in many unsubsidized markets, wind energy is the lowest cost option – due in part to powerful composite manufactured turbines. She recommended that composites manufacturers consider technical factors, economic factors like the cost of source materials, transportation and sorting, as well as market factors like demand and supply capacity, to evaluate the viability of recycling.
Following the keynote, Brandon Fitchett and Ken Ladwig of the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) detailed the findings of a recently concluded preliminary assessment of wind turbine blade recycling. Their report, commissioned by ACMA and available for free download, sought to determine how many wind blades are in the waste system and how we are currently dealing with the waste. The preliminary assessment uncovered a smaller waste stream than expected for wind blades, but still showed a less desirable eco-footprint from a source of “clean energy”. Fitchett highlighted that the problem isn’t large yet, but the composites industry needs tested technology in place to harness a potentially valuable waste stream that will emerge within the next 10 years. Ladwig detailed several EOL technologies to recoup composites materials from wind blades, including cement kilns, pyrolysis, and the newer technology of “re-wind,” repurposing decommissioned wind blades as for bridges, railings, and poles. The EPRI report also uncovered research gaps. Ladwig concluded that in order to overcome recycling challenges, the industry needs more economical technology and more rigorous techno-economic assessment (TEA).
The second half-day examined drivers for recycling across various markets and sectors - from automotive and sporting goods to marine and musical instruments. A panel featuring Andrew Maxey of Vartega, Erik Poulin of the Composite Recycling Technology Center (CRTC), and Camille Seurat of ELG explored various case studies with unique applications for carbon fiber recycling. Maxey highlighted Vartega’s work with a Blackbird Clara concert ukulele that replaced high cost wood with stiff, lightweight DiFTS. Additionally, he showcased Vartega’s “Recycling-in-a-box” – a modular recycling subscription with on-site or local recycling, scrap valorization for internal reuse or external sale, reduced transport, and no waste disposal fees. Vartega’s subscription offers a closed-loop recycling solution, creating a circular supply chain solution. CRTC’s Poulin added that despite the various possible recycling applications, the industry faces challenges in competition with lower cost labor and establishing a consistent supply of materials, which is essential to create a strong, sustained demand for recycled composites materials.
The day continued with another panel discussion on marine recycling and sustainability. Matt Moore of Scout Boats shared several of the company's sustainability efforts, including successes with material kitting to reduce consumption of fiberglass and core materials, as well as vacuum bag patterning that reduces bag waste by 30% and can save up to 90% of labor hours. Panelist Simonetta Pegorari gave insights about the European marine recycling landscape, focusing on France and Italy. With more than 1 million recreational boats in France alone, the country is the first with a long-term deconstruction sector since French boat owners are responsible for the destruction of their boats after ownership or the owners face fines. Dumping boats in landfills is banned in nearly all of Europe, so primary recycling techniques for these vessels are grinding, incineration, and pyrolysis. She added that the cost and lack of viable recycling options still present barriers to recycle, and composites recycling is still in its infancy in Europe. Panelist Evan Ridley of the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association shared that 3 million recreational boats reached end of life status between 2006 - 2019, with 75% assumed to be manufactured using composites. He stated that there are challenges like cost and difficulty with material separation, as well as opportunities to recycle boats in high volume at reduced costs with effective recycling supply chain solutions. Ridley shared that interconnected environmental and economic factors, such as natural disasters and increasing landfill costs, underline a need for enhanced lifecycle management in the marine industry—a vital opportunity for the composites manufacturing industry.
The second half-day concluded with the panel session, “Market Pull for Recycled Composites Products”. Sustainable Composites’ Ed Pilpel explored opportunities for the composites manufacturing to expand the use of repurposed composites products at the end of life and to use bi-products after deconstruction. He shared case studies where spare parts in automotive, bird houses, and light fixtures were repurposed, as well as opportunities for harvesting high strength, stiff fibers for re-use. He highlighted that in order to meet demand, there needs to be a supply chain… ” a continuous, reliable source for end-market use”. He concluded that in order to succeed in the recycling and sustainability arena, the industry must meet demand and provide: universal standards for properties and performance; universal LCA/LCI modeling tool for comparative analysis; and a recycled materials supply chain that meets universal credibility, consistency and quality assurance certification standards.
Session recordings from the event are available for purchase on ACMA’s Education Hub. Registrants will have free access to all recordings and presentations for 90 days after the event. For more information or questions, please email Barry Black at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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