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RS Sailing 2021 - LEADERBOARD

RCA Engineering: Composites recycling plants

by Jaime Recasens 22 Aug 2023 03:53 PDT
At the Casper landfill (USA), at least 870 blades are piled up in 30-foot-deep holes for burial © RCA Engineering

Composite materials or polymer matrix composites, due to their mechanical and chemical properties, are a type of material in full growth in sectors such as aeronautics, automotive, naval, high-level sports equipment, construction, etc.

This has caused exponential growth in the consumption of these materials where it is estimated that by the year 2030 only in the EU we should be able to recycle more than one million tons of composite materials. In order not to enlarge this problem. The EU is legislating to promote a circular management of the waste generated.

We have deceived ourselves by believing in the use of green energies when in fact what we have done is to accumulate more waste. An example of this is the landfills that are being used to bury this type of material and hide it, given that the reality is that we are not getting rid of it.

The same effect is happening with disused boats, where they are accumulated in landfills without being able to provide a recycling solution for these materials. It is also estimated that there are 12 million boats registered in the United States and 6 million in Europe, most of them fiberglass.

A 2007 report by the International Council of Marine Industry Associations estimates that a well-maintained fiberglass boat can easily last 50 years, during which time it is likely to change ownership several times. But "even the best-built vessel will someday have to end its life," the report notes.

In this area, the RCA Engineering team has designed a sustainable and circular process for the recycling and reuse of composite materials (based on glass and carbon fibre) from any sector.

The current challenge is to have sufficient recycling centres around the world and a sufficiently large market for the consumption of recycled products and to support these recycling centres.

During the last 17 years, several studies have been developed to achieve the recycling of thermosetting glass and carbon fibre composites. Composites are blends of polymers and fibre reinforcements, either glass, carbon or Kevlar® and in most cases fillers and core filler material are found together with these.

Currently, several proposals have been developed for the possible recycling of thermoset composite materials. The diagram below (Figure 3) summarizes in broad outline the recycling methods that are currently still under research and development.

RCA Engineering has focused on both mechanical and thermal processes for recycling composite materials. The reason for this decision on the part of RCA Engineering has been the development of circular strategies to reduce and improve the efficiency of the management of these wastes. The aim and concept is to offer the market new circular recycling strategies.

RCA Engineering has considered all the pros and cons of each of the methods being developed for the recycling of these materials. For the time being, we have ruled out the development of recycling projects using chemicals because, in some of the chemical recycling processes of composite materials, toxic substances are produced, such as cadmium and mercury, among others, which can leach into the environment.

While it is true that, in some of the current thermal processes, there is concern that during the process, systems that destroy chlorinated organic molecules by heat have the potential to create incomplete combustion products, including dioxins and furans.

In the various process projects for the recycling of composite materials developed by RCA Engineering. The starting point has been the premise of zero waste and zero emissions.

RCA Engineering has opted for modular process plants for the recycling of composite materials. With a compact design, the modular engineering and construction results in plants that are efficient in assembly time and implementation cost.

The modular system includes all aspects such as erection of the steel structure, installation of equipment, piping, valves, instruments and junction boxes, and electrical wiring.

After a development period of three years developing the different concepts. Incredible data has been achieved, such as a plant installation execution time of simply hours. Each modular recycling plant is a stand-alone system that can be installed in any location and is not limited by the available infrastructure. It is an ideal solution for the decommissioning of equipment and/or structures made of composite materials.

The advantages offered by this system developed by RCA Engineering are endless, among them are the following:

  • Low process energy cost.
  • Zero emissions.
  • Low noise pollution.
  • Zero waste.
  • It is an integral solution supplied by a single company. Avoiding the cumbersome work of dealing with several companies for the implementation of the plant.
  • Optimization of operations. Due to the modular design, implementation and start-up time is reduced.
  • The cost is reduced by about 30% compared to the construction of a traditional plant.
  • Ideal for remote locations.

RCA Engineering also offers optional packages to its modular plants that allow a complete shutdown of the process.

RCA Engineering currently has the following range of projects for the recycling of glass and carbon fibre composites.

Mechanical recycling equipment:

  • M-ACR-30. Possibility of complementing the module with an additional module that allows to completely close the circle of the recycling process.
  • M-ACR-70. Possibility to complement the module with an additional module that allows to close completely the circle of the recycling process.
  • M-ACR-500.

Thermal recycling equipment:

  • T-ACR-30.
  • T-ACR-60.

More information about the equipment can be found on the company's website

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RS Sailing 2021 - FOOTER2024 fill-in (bottom)J Composites J/45