European ECOLAND Project to Develop Recyclable Structural Composites

03 June 2005

A European collective research project aims to develop new materials for a wider diffusion of a new generation of composites characterised by higher recyclability, in order to address the needs of the land transport industry.

The proposal for the ECOLAND (Recyclable Structural Composites for Land Transportation) project has recently been submitted to the European Commission for funding by D'Appolonia, the Italian research organisation, experienced in European projects and in the field of advanced materials.

The project has a number of objectives which include:
Development of new materials for land transportation sector, including all thermoplastic composites, crop origin raw material (CORM) composites and biopolymer composites made from natural renewable resources;
Development/assessment of methodologies for recycling and recovery of polymer composites;
Development of methodologies for design for disassembly and recycling;
Development of environmental life cycle assessment (LCA) methodologies and tools to assess the environmental impact of products over the whole product life cycle;
Development of database and knowledge management tools.

Tools, guidelines and best practices will be made available to the Associations of the Consortium in order to provide their members with an innovative service related to the development of recyclable structural composites for land transportation.
The Association will have the property rights of the project results.

The project will also aim to capture, disseminate and demonstrate current technologies for environmentally friendly composites manufacturing and emerging technologies, and develop an industrially driven research road map that addresses environmentally friendly composites manufacturing issues.

Other objectives identified in the project proposal include the pooling of research capability and infrastructure and the provision of a forum of excellence to enable effective information exchange within and between academic and industrial communities.

Guidelines and best practices in manufacturing and design tools related to the novel technologies are proposed with the aim of stimulating standardisation and harmonisation.

Alessandro Bozzolo from D'Appolonia suggests that ""recycling issues are considered to be a major barrier to the more widespread adoption of composites by the transport sectors. Recycling will be a demand for all materials that are used in transport applications, and material suppliers must be able to demonstrate that their materials can be recycled. Issues such as identification, collection, transportation, dismantling and cleaning are important technical matters that need to be resolved in an economical way.""

Further adding that ""another important obstacle today is the lack of feasible end-use applications for recycled composites. A reuse as a filler is not enough, as the recyclate cannot compete price wise with virgin fillers. It is necessary to develop products in which the specific properties of the recycled material can be utilised. This could, for example, be their mechanical properties or their processability.""

The proposed research has a twofold objective: the first one is related to the introduction of new materials such as innovative combinations of natural fibres and natural resin systems to solve recycling problems. The development work will be especially focused in composite applications where long fibre reinforcements are required. One of the results of the work will be an exhaustive analysis of the composite materials currently used in land transportation and guidelines for their use in land transport applications considering the current recycling constraints imposed by the new regulations.

The second objective is to develop design for recycling methodologies applied to the composite materials more frequently used in the transportation sectors (including natural fibre composites, but also thermoplastic composites, thermoset composites and different foam systems and additives). Research will focus on the implementation of existing technical methods to recycle composites (in particular mechanical recycling by grinding the composite into filler and destruction by incineration to collect the energy content) within today's waste management systems. This would also involve the preparation of revised guidelines and standards for recycling.

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