Report: whole lifecycle approach needed to make composites sector sustainable

Composites sector

A whole life-cycle approach is required to make the UK’s £4 billion composites industry more sustainable, a new report has found.

The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) says that, alongside the National Composites Centre (NCC) and the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), it has identified 19 chemistry-based solutions to improve the environmental impact of composites, which are essential to the construction of green technologies such as wind turbines, electric cars and hydrogen fuel storage.

The organisations have joined forces to urge industry, academia, and government to seize on the opportunities they say they have identified to overhaul the sector.

The RSC, NCC and CPI have examined the current sustainability issues posed by these materials and identified possible solutions in a new report. The Chemistry-enabled sustainable composites report contains a list of 19 different chemistry-focused opportunities split across six themes:

  • Integrating with the bioeconomy.
  • Adopting waste and circular economy approaches.
  • Designing end-of-life strategies.
  • Improving the energy efficiency of manufacturing.
  • Adopting digital and computational chemistry approaches.
  • Government policy agenda for sustainable materials.

The report’s authors have also created a three-point action plan, with the RSC committing to “champion” new research and promote skills development. The NCC and CPI – which collectively form the Sustainable Composites partnership – have also pledged to encourage collaboration between different peer groups to progress the most promising and sustainable solutions.

Work completed by Arkema, Gurit, Molydyn, Solvay and Trillium Renewable Chemicals is presented via a series of case studies in the report. Arkema and Gurit have developed resin systems for wind turbine blades that are “easier to recycle” and can extend the blade’s lifespan.

Commenting on the report, Jo Reynolds, the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Director of Science and Communities, said: “As composites are crucial to helping us realise our climate goals, it is vital that we make these materials as sustainable as possible. Our report shows that the chemical sciences play a pivotal role in helping us achieve that.

“We want this research to act as a catalyst for chemists, inspiring them to develop innovative solutions which will enable these valuable materials to continue enabling green technologies, but in a more sustainable way.

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