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New Guide to Measure Environmental Impacts of Composites

  • Friday, 14th January 2005
  • Reading time: about 4 minutes

A green guide to composites has been produced by two UK organisations to steer composite production towards a more eco-friendly future.

The green guide to composites, available both as a publication and as a dynamic web based tool, has been developed by NetComposites and the Buildings Research Establishment, and part funded by the UK Department for Trade and Industry.

The guide is an environmental profiling system for composite materials and products, which aims to further our understanding of the environmental and social implications associated with the manufacture of composite materials.

The Guide published this week, has been produced as the output from a collaborative project, ‘A simplified guide to assessing environmental, social and economic performance for the composites industry (COMPASS)’, part funded by the UK Department of Trade and Industry through the Sustainable Technologies Initiative. The production and content of this document has also been steered by a number of organisations, representing a cross-section of the composites industry.

Whilst different processing techniques, such as closed mould processes, have sought to address some of the problems associated with composite processing, and alternative natural fibres such as hemp growing in popularity, there still remains some confusion in the industry as to the level of benefits that these alternatives provide.

The paper and web based versions of the guide will enable the composites sector to not only understand the environmental and social impacts associated with composite production, but will also assist with the decisions made about material and process choice.

Whilst Saint Gobain Vetrotex ,one of the organizations involved in the projects steering group, does not operate any of the processes studied in the compass project, Peter Thornburrow from Saint Gobain Vetrotex, was quick to comment on the usefulness of the guide for the industry.

“The results of COMPASS will enable us to advise our customers on the environmental aspects of their chosen processes in manufacturing composite parts, and to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of alternative methods, with the knowledge that our advice will be based on sound, scientific, evaluation techniques.”

The materials and processes modelled in the guide are rated from A (good) through to E (poor). Twelve different environmental impacts are individually scored and totalled to give an overall environmental impact summary rating. Two social impact ratings are also given.

The environmental data in this Green Guide to Composites is generated using a technique known as Life Cycle Assessment. LCA is a method of measuring the environmental impacts of a product through its life cycle, often from the cradle to the grave. However, this Green Guide to Composites has studied the life cycle impacts from cradle to factory gate.

Within the system boundaries for the LCA, three typical product types have been chosen to reflect a range of different components commonly manufactured using composites:
A double curvature panel– this has a surface area of 1m2 with a panel stiffness equivalent to a 4mm thick chopped strand mat laminate.
A flat sandwich panel– measuring 1m x 8m with a 25mm thick core, having a panel bending stiffness equivalent to a sandwich panel with a 4mm thick chopped strand mat skin.
A complex moulded component– with a volume of 770cm3.

Similarly, production processes and materials have been selected to provide a balance between systems that are commonly used across the majority of the composites industry and emerging materials with the potential to provide an environmental benefit. For this reason, materials such as hemp fibre and self-reinforced polypropylene have been included in the guide, but materials that are more specific to a single sector (eg aramid fibre) have not been included. Within each specific process there are still many processing variations (eg methods for mixing, curing and trimming) in addition to the material choice possibilities.

To enable fair comparisons, a base case has been selected for each process. This is used throughout the guide to allow the merits of each process variation to be assessed.

When undertaking the studies for the guide, data on impacts from the use of raw materials, energy, manufacturing and emissions associated with the product system under investigation were combined to provide an overall impact in each of the 12 environmental and 2 social impact categories. This approach provided a detailed breakdown of the performance of the product system across the common environmental and social categories. Within each product type, the results for each issue are then compared. For each issue, there will be a range, with the lowest (minimum) and highest (maximum) impact identified.

The Green Guide to Composites is now available for under £30 GBP, more details available here The web version of the guide can be accessed from within the NetComposites site within our composites tool section here

For more information visit:

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