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Novel strategies for reusing decommissioned aeroplanes

Recycling waste from composite materials used in building aircraft components is problematic, typically ending up in desert graveyards, airports and landfills. An EU initiative provided solutions for their effective disposal.

Industrial Technologies

Carbon fibre reinforced thermosetting polymers (CFRPs) are a type of lightweight composite material used by the industry because of their strength and rigidity. They cannot be melted down in air like many metals, making them more difficult to recycle. In cases where it is economically feasible to recycle CFRPs, the incentives are few given other more inexpensive options. To address the issue, the EU-funded IRECE (Industrial recycling of CFRP by emulsification) project set out to propose a sustainable approach to disposing aeroplanes in landfills and develop a cost-effective recycling procedure. Overall, the aim was to design a plant for the sustainable and cost-effective recycling of CFRPs and thermoplastic polymer plastics (TPCs) normally obtained from the dismantling of aeroplanes. Work began with the mapping of current industrial plants that may be appropriate for the machining and grinding of CFRPs and TPCs. Existing industrial plants for mixing and extrusion of polymer gels that contain ground and sorted rigid fillers were also mapped. Required equipment, layouts and possible modifications to such plants were assessed. Industrial consequences in a real manufacturing plant were also evaluated. The technical and economic effects of the proposed industrial technology were compared with existing alternative technologies in terms of cost and performance. Based on this, minimum conditions for its viability were established. Project partners assessed the production cycle's environmental impact and risks involved in the complete production process, including technical and economic threats. After defining the industrial process and manufacturing system design, they analysed all aspects involved in production planning and control. This resulted in a restricted manual. IRECE introduced an efficient, economically viable and environmentally sound method that enables the recycling and reuse of CFRPs and TPCs. The aerospace industry stands to benefit with up to 14 000 aeroplanes set to retire in the next two decades.


Waste, aircraft components, carbon fibre reinforced thermosetting polymers, industrial recycling, thermoplastic polymer plastics

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