A more sustainable future thanks to the recycling of composites was discussed yesterday in Zaragoza at the 3rd edition of Composiforum, an international forum that brings together scientists and experts from research centres, universities and leading companies from several European countries. From the structure of an aeroplane, wind turbines, the manufacture of cars or just a simple paddle tennis racket or a ski. Everything involves the use of composite materials, based on plastics. So the sustainability and recycling of these materials is one of the aspects that most concerns the scientific community in this sector. This was made clear today during the technical conference organised by the Aitiip Chair of the University of Zaragoza, which dealt with the latest in recycling, recovery and reuse of composite materials, and presented the most revolutionary lines of active research.
"Composite materials are light, so they allow us to reduce energy consumption in different industries such as the automotive or aeronautics industries, but now we are researching how all these materials can have a second life, that these materials are not discarded and that we can separate the fibres from the resins to convert these materials back into other products", explained Berta Gonzalvo, research director of the Aitiip Technology Centre. The new commitment of the scientific community now lies in the fact that "the new materials that are generated will have to be intrinsically recyclable".
The issue is of concern not only because it gives a second life to composite materials and is committed to the sustainability of recycling and the reduction of CO2 emissions, but also because it is a sector that can retain talent and create jobs. Without going any further, Yolanda Sancho, General Director of Universities of the Government of Aragon has said that "in the coming years up to 2 million jobs could be created in Europe, so the role of innovation is vital".
All this knowledge and the latest developments in the sector have been put on the table with the participation of heads of prestigious universities such as Cote D'Azur, Do as well as leading companies such as EvoEnzyme, Placo® and Isover, Urbaser, Grupo Antolin or Teruel Airport, among others. Precisely, Alejandro Ibrahim, CEO of Teruel Airport has highlighted that "we have a great challenge in the coming years in terms of sustainability in the aeronautical, special and defence sector because up to 80% of aircraft material is composite material; the weight and resistance of the materials is fundamental, so the industrial reconversion to recover these materials is basic".
Juan Blanchard, president of Aitiip Technology Centre, highlighted the "clear need to change the direction towards sustainability and circularity of composite materials". For this reason, COMPOSIFORUM also stresses the need for training, "it is essential that the new young people who are going to join the market are up to date with the state of the art, the needs of the industry and the importance for us professionals who are active to have continuous training in terms of research and to know how it impacts on product development", added Berta Gonzalvo.
The keynote lecture of this international forum was given by Pedro Camanho, Professor of Applied Mechanics at the University of Porto, who highlighted the importance of holding events such as COMPOSIFORUM, as they provide a unique opportunity to bring together "researchers, training professionals and also industry" in the same place, which makes it easier to echo scientific developments and for industry itself to learn about their applications, just as the scientific community comes to understand the great challenges facing the world of industry. Camanho has put on the table the complexity of the sustainability of composite materials, "these are very urgent aspects and we must seek synergies between different sectors as the future lies in new non-conventional composites that allow new functionalities, for example for flexible robotics or to manufacture new aircraft wings".
COMPOSIFORUM has unveiled cutting-edge research in enzymatic bioengineering to recycle composite materials. In the words of Miguel Alcalde, co-founder and director of EvoEnzyme and research professor at the Institute of Catalysis of the CSIC, this type of materials are "very suitable and technologically much more powerful than those that had been developed in recent decades, but when the life cycle of the composites is over we must try to degrade and valorise them, and this is what we are doing now by applying green technology based on the use of enzymes".
After the event, attendees were able to enjoy a lunch-networking and a guided tour of the Aitiip facilities, where they learned about the technological capabilities of the centre.