Sustainable Composites

It is important that all industries contribute to less waste, more reuse, and more sustainable solutions.

Society has a strong focus on circular economy and sustainable solutions. The UN has defined 17 sustainability goals that society and companies must succeed in creating a better world.

It is important that all industries contribute to less waste, more reuse, and more sustainable solutions. This also applies to us who work with composites. When companies choose material solutions, composites will often represent a more sustainable solution than for example metal.

In the aerospace and automotive industries, replacing metal with composites has resulted in significant weight reductions, which in turn contribute to lower fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. Choosing a composite can also make the product more durable and give it a longer lifespan than other materials.

The downside is that these materials are challenging to reuse and recycle, especially composites made of thermosetting plastic.

THERMOPLASTIC COMPOSITE SOLUTIONS CAN REPLACE TRADITIONAL THERMOSETTING COMPOSITES

From 2013 - 2017, Norner participated in a large EU project, Walid (Wind blade using cost-efficient Advanced Lightweight Design), to develop new thermoplastic composite solutions in wind turbine blades.

Traditional wind turbine blades are usually made of glass and carbon-reinforced thermosetting plastic, which is difficult to recycle. In this project, we developed and demonstrated, together with 10 other European companies and institutes, that it is entirely possible to use thermoplastic composites in components such as rotor, wind turbine tip (leading edge) and reinforcement inside the wind turbine wing (shear web).

The advantages of replacing thermosetting plastic with thermoplastic are that it is easier to recycle, it is easier to repair damage and it gives a shorter cycle time during processing.

Another benefit was weight reduction, which is especially important for offshore wind turbines, where the challenge is to make longer wind turbine wings that can produce more wind energy. In addition to developing new materials, it was important to demonstrate how the thermoplastic components could be manufactured using an automated lay-up process.

SUSTAINABLE DESIGN OF COMPOSITES 

Sustainable design means looking at the entire life cycle of the product, choosing materials that make the product easy to repair, materials that can be recycled and to use recycled materials. In several projects where Norner is responsible for material development, we investigate the possibility of using fewer types of materials in product development.

One way to achieve this for composites could be to use fiber and polymer from the same polymer family, which will make it much easier to recycle the products. These composites are known as Self Reinforced Composites. Examples of this could be using polypropylene fiber in a polypropylene base.

Another exciting project that started in January 2021 is REVOLUTION. In this project Norner will develop monomaterial composite products from recycled household plastic. The plan is to use these products in car interiors for electric cars, which need materials with low weight that are easy to recycle.

CIRCULAR ECONOMY IS CRUCIAL 

Every year, Norner works in more than 30 countries around the world with innovation projects for our customers where we help them realize the UN’s sustainability goals and develop a circular economy for plastics. The projects have a common success factor – value chain collaboration.

REVOLUTION

In this H2020 project, Norner will develop monomaterial composite products to be used in car interiors for electric cars, which need materials with low weight that are more circular (easy to recycle and incorporate recyclates in their compositions).

REVOLUTION brings together leading organisations from European stronghold industries such as automotive, chemicals and plastics. The automotive industry is represented by STELLANTIS through Tofas, CRF and Tier 1s Farplas and MAIER. LyondellBasell, Clariant, Altuglas and Heathland provide strong representation of the European excellence in plastics, chemicals and circular materials. These are joined by leading research organisations, like Fraunhofer IAP, IMEC, IDENER, Norner and VTT to bring a solution to market that addresses the entire value chain. The project coordination excellence by FARPLAS and ICONIQ INNOVATION will also be a key for success.

REVOLUTION focusses on overcoming the challenges hindering the use of recycled materials, but more broadly, restricting the widespread adoption of circular economy principles in the automotive industry. Forthcoming ELV directives are expected to recognise the potential for plastics to enable a circular flow of materials in the automotive sector. Implementing minimum post-consumer recyclate (PCR) targets in any new plastic components in vehicles are currently being discussed. These targets will disrupt the automotive industry.

One of the key roles of Norner in this project is to demonstrate the production technology, material composition and performance potentials of a rear back-seat panel using SelfReinforced Polyolefins (SRPO) with a weight reduction of >50% compared to the current steel alternative. This work will involve several disciplines at Norner from compounding and polymer modification to film extrusion and moulding. It will also involve external partners where we can explore industrial upscaling of the developed concepts.

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