We are helping overcome the difficult recycling challenges and remanufacturing of composite materials due to the diverse (heterogeneous) nature of their composition. We have developed new processes for recycling and remanufacturing these materials.
The £1.42 million collaborative project called EXHUME (Efficient X-sector use of HeterogeneoUs MatErials in Manufacturing) researched and developed novel recycling and remanufacturing processes, assessing the environmental impact of solutions.
Partnered with Innovate UK (formerly the Technology Strategy Board), National Composites Centre, industry (Airbus Group, EnginSoft UK Ltd, Kirton Kayaks Ltd, Lanner Group Ltd, Meggitt Aircraft Braking Systems and TWI Ltd) and other institutions (universities of Birmingham, Manchester and Exeter).
- Funded by Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
Impact of our research
It is hoped this research will increase scrap and end-of-life material reuse in the composites industry, bringing major environmental benefits to the UK and Europe as a whole.
We characterised the diversity of scrap materials from manufacturing; researched and developed novel process engineering technologies to facilitate the reuse of scrap with minimum energy, water and cost while maintaining / improving material performance; transformed and optimised manufacturing processes to allow for material reuse; and also developed new manufacturing processes incorporating reprocessed scrap.
Professor Gary Leeke – who joined us from the University of Birmingham as Head of our Bioenergy and Resource Management Centre – has demonstrated how composite materials could be reused across industry. He made a kayak from reinforced composite materials (waste from the aerospace industry) – the material is light, strong, hard wearing and would otherwise have been sent to landfill. The demonstration model proved that composite materials could play a huge part in the future of manufacturing, with a huge number of potential applications including high performance sporting goods, as well as automotive components and marine applications.
Why the research was commissioned
Composite materials represent the future for many industries as the possibility of combining better mechanical strength and reduced weight make them ideal for use in transportation, allowing for a unique design and functionality in combination with high fuel efficiency.
However, the increased use of composites automatically leads to waste - either end-of-life or manufacturing waste. It has been estimated in the EU it is estimated there is currently 250,000 end-of-life waste and more than 50,000 tonnes production waste. These figures will increase with time.
The composites industry, in particular carbon fibre, is under increasing pressure to provide viable recycling technology for their materials. This is the case because the European Commission has controlled landfill and incineration of these materials.
We have expertise in both resource management (through our Centre for Bioenergy and Resource Management) and in manufacturing (through our Manufacturing Informatics Centre). The EXHUME project brought together these different disciplinary approaches.
Composite materials pose difficult scientific and technical recycling challenges due to the mixed nature of their composition. Vital remanufacturing science and chemical / process engineering needed to be demonstrated to the waste industry as their current approach was inadequate. This was as well as developing the first datasets and exemplars of mixed composite processing and associated resource footprints that could be used to drive the future of scrap reuse across industrial sectors.