UL researchers join EU project to make composite materials recyclable

2 Nov 2021

Dr Maurice Collins. Image: Bernal Institute

Dr Maurice Collins is leading a team of researchers aiming to develop new, sustainable composite materials as part of a €5.3m EU project.

University of Limerick (UL) is the sole university partner involved in a project that has the potential to improve the recyclability of composite materials used in the construction, aerospace and automotive industries.

The Vibes project is a pan-European collaboration between several research groups and industry stakeholders from countries including Spain, Italy, Greece, France, Belgium and Germany.

It is funded by the Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. The project has a budget of almost €5.3m and it is expected to last for four years.

Composites are used a lot in advanced engineering projects due to their durability and resistance to corrosion. They are also lightweight and are often used in the construction of aerospace and electric vehicles, but are currently unsustainable and are not recyclable.

For their part in the project, scientists at UL’s Bernal Institute will be working on sustainable fibres that could make composite materials recyclable, and will be involved in the development and testing of new composites for construction, aerospace and naval applications.

“These new composites could eliminate waste in end-of-life composites and create a circular ecosystem for these materials,” said Dr Maurice N Collins, project lead at UL and senior lecturer at the university’s School of Engineering.

The project’s approach focuses on the controlled separation and recovery of composite material components, through the development of customised bio-based bonding materials.

“These new composite materials will be fully bio-based along with the recycling technology itself, and this will lead to reduced environmental impact by reducing the use of primary materials, harmful chemicals and landfilling,” Collins added.

“The green recycling technology will be designed and implemented as a pilot in semi-industrial environments to separate and recover composite components as new feedstocks for the development of new products.”

Irish company Juno Composites is on board as an industrial developer member. The company supplies carbon fibre sheets and other carbon fibre products, which it manufactures at its Irish base.

Vibes builds on work done at UL that began with Libre, a project that aimed to free the composite industry of its reliance on oil-based production.

Earlier this year, Collins and colleagues at the Bernal Institute announced that they had produced carbon fibre from waste bio-resources, paving the way in sustainable material production.

The research team believes that the knowledge uncovered through the new Vibes project will help researchers, industrial professionals and students in materials science, engineering and chemical fields to meet the rising demand for sustainability in the tech and innovation sectors.

Don’t miss out on the knowledge you need to succeed. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of need-to-know sci-tech news.

Blathnaid O’Dea is Careers reporter at Silicon Republic