Researchers at University of Limerick are working on an innovative solution 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, and could have a significant climate impact, while also creating new jobs in the sector.
The project seeks to improve the recyclability of composite materials through a greener, cost-efficient and non-toxic recycling technology.
It is a research and innovation project involving 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 and are of interest because of 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 unsustainable and are not recyclable.
“The work at University of Limerick specifically addresses the development of sustainable fibers for reinforcement of these next generation recyclable composite materials,” explained project lead at UL and senior lecturer at the School of Engineering, Dr Maurice N Collins.
“Researchers at UL will also be involved in the development of the recycling technology and the testing of the new composites for construction, aerospace and naval applications. These new composites could eliminate waste in end-of-life composites and create a circular ecosystem for these materials,” he added.
The VIBES approach focuses on the controlled separation and recovery of composite material components, by means of developing customised biobased bonding materials.
“These new composite materials will be fully biobased along with the recycling technology itself and this will lead to reduced environmental impact by reducing the use of primary materials, harmful chemicals and landfilling,” explained 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,” he further explained.
The project team believe that the demonstration and training activities of VIBES will provide new knowledge and skills to researchers, industrial professionals and students in materials science, engineering and chemical fields, to meet the rising demand for technical jobs.
VIBES builds on work done at UL that began with LIBRE, a project that aimed to free the composite industry of its reliance on oil-based production.
The VIBES consortium aims to achieve better results through collaborative innovation, contributing to competitiveness and helping meet social challenges.
It is comprised of a host of partners across seven EU member states, plus research and technology organisations, companies, SMEs and public bodies.
VIBES is funded by Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI – JU) under the European Union’s Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, Horizon 2020.