Composite materials or polymer matrix composite materials, due to their mechanical and chemical properties, are a type of materials in full growth in sectors such as aeronautics, automotive, naval, high level sports equipment, construction, etc.
This has caused exponential growth in the consumption of these materials where it is estimated that by the year 2030 only in the EU we should be able to recycle more than one million tons of composite materials. In order not to enlarge this problem, the EU is legislating to promote a circular management of the waste generated.
We have deceived ourselves by believing in the use of green energies when in fact what we have done is to accumulate more waste. An example of this is the landfills that are being used to bury this type of material and hide it, since we are not really getting rid of it.
The same effect is happening with disused boats, where they are piled up in camps without being able to provide a recycling solution for these materials. There are an estimated 12 million registered boats in the United States and 6 million in Europe, most of them fiberglass. A 2007 report by the International Council of Marine Industry Associations estimates that a well-maintained fiberglass boat can easily last 50 years, during which time it is likely to change ownership several times. But "even the best-built vessel will someday have to end its life," the report notes.
In this area, the RCA Engineering team has designed a sustainable and circular process for the recycling and reuse of composite materials (based on glass and carbon fiber) from any sector. The current challenge is, to have enough recycling centers around the world and a large enough market for recycled products to support those recycling centers.
During the last 17 years, several studies have been developed to achieve the recycling of glass and carbon fiber thermoset composites. Composites are mixtures of polymers and fiber reinforcements, either glass, carbon or kevlar® and in most cases fillers and core filler material are found together with them.
Currently, several proposals have been developed for the possible recycling of thermoset composite materials. The diagram below (Figure 3) summarizes in broad outline the recycling methods that are currently still under research and development.
RCA Engineering has focused on both mechanical and thermal processes for recycling composite materials. The reason for this decision on the part of RCA Engineering has been the development of circular strategies to reduce and improve the efficiency of waste management. The aim and concept is to offer the market new circular recycling strategies.
RCA Engineering has taken into account all the pros and cons of each of the methods being developed for the recycling of these materials. For the time being, we have ruled out the development of recycling projects using chemicals because, in some of the chemical recycling processes of composite materials, toxic substances are produced, such as cadmium and mercury, among others, which can leach into the environment.
While it is true that, in some of today's thermal processes, there is concern that during the process, systems that destroy chlorinated organic molecules by heat have the potential to create incomplete combustion products, including dioxins and furans.
In the different processes developed by RCA Engineering it has been that all processes developed by the engineering company comply with the premise of zero waste and zero emissions.
RCA Engineering has opted for modular process plants for the recycling of composite materials. With a compact design, the modular engineering and construction results in plants that are efficient in assembly time and implementation cost.
The modular system includes all aspects such as erection of the steel structure, installation of equipment, piping, valves, instruments and junction boxes, and electrical wiring.
After a development period of three years, incredible data such as an installation time of hours has been achieved. Each modular recycling plant is a stand-alone system that can be installed in any location and is not limited by the available infrastructure. It is an ideal solution for the decommissioning of equipment and/or structures made of composite materials.
The advantages offered by this system developed by RCA Engineering are endless, among them are the following:
- Low process energy costs.
- Zero emissions.
- Low noise pollution.
- Zero waste.
- It is an integral solution supplied by a single company. Avoiding the cumbersome work of dealing with several companies for the implementation of the plant.
- Optimization of operations. Due to the modular design, implementation and start-up time is reduced.
- The cost is reduced by about 30% compared to the construction of a traditional plant.
- Ideal for remote locations.
RCA Engineering also offers optional packages to its modular plants that allow a complete shutdown of the process.
RCA Engineering currently has the following range of projects for the recycling of glass and carbon fiber composites.
Mechanical recycling equipment:
M-ACR-30. Possibility of complementing the module with an additional module that allows to completely close the circle of the recycling process.
M-ACR-70. Possibility to complement the module with an additional module that allows to close completely the circle of the recycling process.
Thermal recycling equipment: