Towards recyclable composite materials

Researchers at the University of Limerick are working to improve the recyclability of composite materials used in the construction, aerospace and automotive industries.

The next-generation recyclable composites are being developed by Project Vibes, a pan-European consortium of which the University of Limerick is the sole academic partner.

The project aims to improve the recyclability of composite materials through greener, more cost-effective and non-toxic recycling technology and involves scientists from UL’s Bernal Institute, with a duration of 48 months and a budget of almost 5.3 million euros.

Composites are known for their high end properties and are basically fiber reinforced polymers or resins. They are deployed in advanced engineering applications for their high mechanical strength, corrosion and chemical resistance, durability and light weight, which is especially important for aerospace and electric vehicles.

However, these materials are currently not recyclable.

“The work at the University of Limerick is specifically focused on the development of sustainable fibers for the reinforcement of next-generation recyclable composite materials,” explained the project leader at UL and senior lecturer at the School of Engineering, the Dr Maurice Collins. “UL researchers will also be involved in developing recycling technology and testing new composites. These new composites could eliminate waste in end-of-life composites and create a circular ecosystem for materials.

The Vibes approach focuses on the controlled separation and recovery of composite material components by custom bio-based bonding materials.

“These new composite materials will be entirely bio-based, which will reduce environmental impact by reducing the use of raw materials, harmful chemicals and landfill,” said Dr Collins. “The resulting composite materials with intrinsic recycling properties will be validated for optimal performance and evaluated on a cost ratio with applications in three successful industrial sectors such as aeronautics, construction and naval.

“The green recycling technology will be designed and implemented as a pilot in semi-industrial settings to separate and recover composite components as new raw materials for new product development.”

Vibes is made up of a multitude of partners in seven EU Member States, as well as research and technology organisations, businesses, SMEs and public bodies. It is funded by the Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking under the European Union’s framework program for research and innovation, Horizon 2020.

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