Composites – the next big recycling business?

Reps from the composites industry recently spoke at The Plastics Recycling Conference about the potential opportunities in this sector.

So what’s a couple of composites folks doing at the Plastics Recycling Conference (March 6-8; New Orleans)? Well, the plastics recycling supply chain is always looking for the next “big" recycling business - so why not composites?

The session included presentations from Rey Banatao with Connora Technologies (Hayward, Calif.), Philip Taynton with Mallinda LLC (Superior, Colo.) and Jerry Qi with Georgia Tech University. Here are some highlights from the panel:

Banatao joked that he felt a "bit out of place at a conference dedicated to plastics recycling” but he was there to make some contacts in the recycling industry. “One reason I’m here at the conference is I’m looking for more recycling partnerships to help to figure out how to deal with composite waste,” he said.

“The world of composites is an interesting place and dealing with its waste problem it something that has existed for some time and its recycling is fairly new,” he said. “It’s a high value material worth paying attention to.”

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Rey Banatao with Connora Technologies held up samples for the audience to see.

He detailed Connora’s epoxy resin system, Recyclamine, which the company claims “enables the next generation of performance composites and adhesives to be recyclable for the first time.” The Recyclamine epoxy system reportedly delivers chemical resistance and mechanical properties similar to conventional, non-recyclable amine-cured epoxies.

Banatao says that they are working with automotive companies (such as BMW) on composites recycling.

“Our goal is to develop a fast curing, recyclable epoxy thermoset resin that can be used for a series production of parts," he says. "We can make a resin that meets the specifications of high performance applications.”

Mallinda claims to have created a new class of malleable polymers. The company says that its Pliashell intrinsically-recyclable thermoset plastic can be molded, and even reshaped, at relatively mild temperatures.

Mallinda is leveraging the unique attributes of Pliashell to enable the efficient manufacture of fully recyclable, advanced composite materials. “Thus far, our material is the only malleable self-healing thermoset plastic to have several value-added properties,” the company stated.

Like Banatao, Taynton said that they’re looking for partners to help with understanding what a scaled recycling process may look like for their material.

Banatao and Taynton were asked about the barriers to enable composites recycling:

“One thing we overlooked quickly was there’s a lot of pressure from incumbent materials to continue existing – we just thought if you build it, they will come but it does interrupt an existing supply chain,” Banatao said.

“Any time you make a new material, it’s very much a chicken and egg problem – there’s no current demand for the material because it doesn’t exist, you have to create the supply and demand. This is why it’s important to get industrial partnerships and co-developments,” Taynton said.

Banatao said that as the use of carbon fiber continues to grow, there will be more material regulations in place. In addition, consumer demand will eventually require the material to be recyclable. “We will have to deal with it sooner or later,” he said.

Looking into the future:

Banatao: “We’re excited to see thermoset recycling get picked up more in the composites industry and the industry is addressing it as I do see some recyclers at the composites shows…and hopefully this panel will help pick it up more.”

Taynton: “This is the beginning...all these technology on stage was invented in the last five years in labs – it’s an exciting time in composite materials and we’re seeing a change in the assumptions of what a thermoset is and what its properties are. With sustainability in mind, we can design the next generation of materials that satisfy an immediate need and also enable economic and sustainable efficiencies.”