It’s been more than three months since we streamed live our first episode of Loops and it keeps on going at full force. Yesterday, on the 22nd of April, our fifth episode of Loops took place, and another side of the multifaceted innovation was unveiled. What we brought in the spotlight this time, was the current situation of composite materials and the innovative approaches that are being produced to move a step further towards a more sustainable planet.

Composites represent attractive materials for structural applications in sectors like transport, energy and construction, due to their light weight, high strength and resistance. However, production defects or excessive loads can cause them to suffer and break. In strong connection with this problem is the difficulty of recycling them by keeping the same high-quality standards as before. Landfilling of end-of-life composites is still a widespread phenomenon in light of the lack of significant value that their reuse or remanufacturing entail. Currently, there is no other choice than downcycling or landfilling. But this is destined to change. And DACOMAT and FiberEUse will contribute to make the difference, in their own way.

Two projects, two different solutions:

DACOMAT and the sustainability approach

Speaker: Dr. Jens Kjær Jørgensen, Research Manager at SINTEF (Norway)

DACOMAT has been brought to life to respond to the need of reducing the occurrence of cracks arising from imperfections and damages occurred at the production level that generally cannot be avoided at competitive costs. The project aims at designing more damage tolerant and damage predictable low-cost composite materials and develop the technology to monitor and assess their condition, in such a way that maintenance costs would be highly reduced due to the their high capacity of sustaining damages. Such design will have significant implications under the sustainable point of view. The impact of their design is measured in terms of a longer lifetime of components, easier detection of damages before critical level and improvement of the ecological footprint in some construction cases. Such improvements will go to the benefit of large load-carrying constructions like bridges, buildings, wind-turbine blades and similar structures. The ultimate goal is that of providing guidelines and support for future initiatives that will follow their trailblazing example.

FIBEREUSE and circular economy

Speaker: Marcello Colledani, Professor at the Mechanical Engineering Department of Politecnico di Milano (Italy)

FiberEUse does not focus on the design of more sustainable composite materials, but on the reuse of end-of-life fibre reinforced ones. Although these fibres are widely used in many different industrial sectors due to their beneficial attributes, their price is a barrier for extending their use to other areas. FiberEUse aims at achieving a condition in which the reuse of these fibres meets two kinds of sustainability: the environmental and the economic one. Currently, there is not a stable solution for treating these materials, hence the existing one still directs them in landfills. What FiberEUse is truly committed to doing is fostering a circular economy programme by putting emphasis on the cross-sectoral approach: as explained, since the specifications for composite materials largely differ in each sectors on the basis of the products they are going to be part of, converting these end-of-life materials into secondary raw ones for other components would be the absolute turning point. An example is provided by the project itself, where end-of-life fibres from the aeronautic sector can turn into valuable components for the automotive one, or else waste generated from wind turbine systems can be treated to design sport equipment, or even creative design products.

The importance of a cross-sectoral approach

As stated by both speakers, one of the very important issue about the recycling of materials coming from wind turbines is that the original product cannot be processed and reconverted into the same brand-new one. Its reuse would have to move to another business or industry. That’s why there is the need of boosting communication between businesses that has never existed in the past. Companies belonging to different sectors do not share enough information between one another about the specific requirements that materials should have for being re-used in other applications, thus preventing businesses from exploiting the residual components of one product to design a new one. At the same time, the other side of the coin, consumers, are still reluctant to embrace the concept of remanufactured products, and circular business models are not widespread and profitability not fully pursued.

The final remark provided by our guests is that despite receving less attention in people’s main concerns, composite materials are as important as other aspects falling within the realm of sustainability and circular economy, and as such, they need to be recognized in their importance and value, being an essential part of our living.

From such discussion, the willingness to further contribute to give value to composite materials arised from both project coordinators who found sinergies between their two projects and explicitly expressed their desire to further collaborate in the future opportunities.

We strongly recommend to watch the episode, as valuable insights are shared to increase our understanding of the innovations that are being devised in the current research scenario.

Thank you all for watching and we’ll see you in the next episode!