VIBES

Improving recyclability of thermoset composite materials through a greener recycling technology based on reversible bio-based bonding materials.

Summary

The use of composite materials has grown substantially in recent years. These materials offer high mechanical strength at a lightweight; in addition, the lack of corrosion – even in extreme environments - often compares favourably to metals. This has seen these materials find considerable uptake in high-technology applications such as aeronautics, automotive, construction, marine and naval, energy and sports science. As the demand for increased fuel efficiency rises, is seems inevitable the demand for these light but strong materials will also rise to match. 

However, these composite materials currently present a problem at end of life. Unlike plastics, they are made up a combination of materials -a polymer matrix combined with a reinforcing material. This means they cannot be simply melted and recycled, as is the case with most plastics. To become useful, they need be separated into their component parts; a challenging process. The challenges in doing this mean that currently most waste composites are simply sent to landfill or incineration; this accounts for almost three-quarters of waste. With Europe’s aspirations to become a circular economy, this is not an acceptable solution. If the increase in their use continues, there needs to be a more effective way of handling waste and making it part of the circular economy.

The VIBES project offers an innovative approach to this challenge. It has developed a technology for the controlled separation and recovery of composite material components by means of developing customised biobased bonding materials. These new materials can then be decomposed to their component parts using temperature, UV or electrical pulses, allowing matrix to be separated from the reinforcing material and will assist in the detachment of the polymer chains of the resins.The resulting products can then be used as feedstock for other processes.

Description

Objectives 

The overall objective of the VIBES project is to address the problem of composite material waste being sent to landfill or incinerated, rather than returning as part of the circular economy. Through a novel, green process, it will provide a potential solution to this growing issue Within this, it will address a number of societal and economic issues.

  • From a societal perspective, the creation of a training programme to educate European industry professionals on the circular economy and the potential solutions. It will also educate European students in the materials science, engineering and chemical fields teaching them new skills for the career pathways emerging from the circular economy. Such efforts will be vital in establishing an effective after-use plastic economy in Europe, as part of a main strategy to promote increased recycling rates of polymers.
  • From an economic perspective, the project will help reduce the level of resources and time required to separate composite materials into their constituent elements ahead of recycling. It will also be able to make much greater use of the recovered materials, upcycling them as feedstock for other applications, creating new value chains in the process.
Impacts 

By achieving its overall objectives, the VIBES project will address the increasing problem of waste from composites and valorise the materials recovered. This will boost the EU’s efforts to establish a fully circular economy with materials whose use is expected to increase. In addition to this, it will also make contributions to specific BBI JU KPIs.

  • Establishing at least two new cross-sectoral interconnections, between the waste managers and the biotechnological sectors and also between the thermoset composite sector and the biotechnological sector.
  • Contribute to creating a new value chain – ‘Intrinsic Recyclable Thermoset Composites’ – and encouraging interaction between four other value chains – chemicals, composites, waste management and recycling.
  • Creating at least three new bio-based materials, in the form of at least three degradable 100% biobased bonding materials for thermoset composites with tailored debonding functionalities.
  • Introduce a new processing technology that will see around 40% less nonbiodegradable composite thermoset polymers sent to landfill and incineration.

Overall, the VIBEs product will demonstrate a practical route for returning the materials from composites back into recycling and playing a role in the circular economy.