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Towards recyclable composite materials

Focus on the controlled separation and recovery of composite components by customised biobased bonding materials.

16th December 2021

Innovation in Textiles
 |  Limerick, Ireland


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 the Vibes project, a pan-European consortium of which the University of Limerick is the only university partner.

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

Composites are known for their high-end properties and are essentially polymers or resins reinforced with fibres. They are deployed in advanced engineering applications for their high mechanical strength, corrosion and chemical resistance, durability and the fact that they are lightweight, which is of particular relevance to aerospace and electric vehicles.

However, these materials are currently not recyclable.

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

The Vibes approach focuses on the controlled separation and recovery of composite material components by customised biobased bonding materials.

“These new composite materials will be fully biobased and this will lead to reduced environmental impact by reducing the use of primary materials, harmful chemicals and landfilling,” said Dr Collins. “The resulting composite materials with intrinsic recycling properties will be validated for optimum performance and assessed on a cost ratio with applications in three high-performance industrial sectors such as the aeronautical, construction and naval industries.

“The green recycling technology will be designed and implemented as a pilot in semi-industrial environments to separate and recover composite components as new feedstocks for the development of new products.”

Vibes is comprised of a host of partners across seven EU member states, plus research and technology organisations, companies, SMEs and public bodies. It is funded by the Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking under the European Union’s Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, Horizon 2020.

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