REVYTA – a sustainable industrial fibreglass recovery project

The project will experiment with the most efficient methods of dismantling and disposal of one of the most discussed and at the same time most versatile materials in the history of boatbuilding.

Dismantling, disposal and recycling of fibreglass used to build boats, but also in the automotive sector for campers and in transport, for example railway carriages. With the aim of proposing an environmentally sustainable industrial model for recycling fibreglass, which does not yet exist in Europe, the Italian Customs and Excise announced, during the 58th Genoa Boat Show held from September 20-25, its support for the REVYTA project. (The acronym derives from the Italian REcupero Vetroresina Yacht Treni cAmper, yachts trains and campers fibreglass recovery). The project is part of the European Union Regional Operational Programme FESR 2014-2020 – action 1.1.5 sub-action a1 – “MPMI research and development projects”.

With an investment of 1.5 million Euro (half of it co-financed by the Tuscany Region), REVYTA aims to develop over about two years an integrated platform for handling the entire recycling process, using to the best effect already developed technologies, starting from robotics for dismantling and selection of materials through to their treatment with a chemical patent under experimentation to obtain fibres and resins with high added value.

The lead company in the project is the EFFEBI spa shipyard in Viareggio, which is heading the group of Tuscan companies formed by SNIAP of Leghorn involved in rail transport design, DIFE spa in Serravalle Pistoiese that handles industrial refuse and FLASHPOINT of Cascina, expert in consultancy on chemical substances and mixtures. Collaborating with the companies involved are the Magona technological Centre consortium, the Robotics Institute of the Sant’Anna School of University studies and the architecture department of the University of Florence. Also involved in the project are the Tuscan Technological District for Yachting and Ports, the Tuscan technological railway District and the Tuscany Interiors and Design District.

In addition to supporting the project, the Customs and Excise will make available one of their vessels for experiments.

REVYTA will define an industry 4.0 collaborative model respecting the principles of the circular economy, which could then obtain legal and technical recognition that would reward all the virtuous subjects in the chain, first among them producers who adopt right from the initial design logic that aims for the reuse and recycling of their product.

The commitment

“As a company, we have already tackled the problem of fibreglass,” saysKatia Balducci , president of NAVIGO, the centre of innovation and development for the marine sector and leader in the management of the Tuscan Technological District for Yachting and Ports, “as in 2008 we carried out a study on disposal in the preceding decade. Our commitment, in this project, is to map out a management route for the entire fibreglass chain and supply major producers, who are increasingly attentive to environmental safeguarding, advanced solutions for recovering and recycling this material.”

Project tasks:

  • to examine the main problems in the entire life-cycle of fibreglass: dismantling, recycling process, designing for recycling, technical and legal conformity of new products and processes
  • to examine, with competitive patent studies, emerging technologies at international level for the recovery and recycling of fibreglass
  • to draw up a proposal to manage the entire fibreglass chain in Tuscany

The economic and environmental problem the project will tackle is recycling fibreglass (GFRP, Glass Fibre-Reinforced Plastic) waste.

GFRP products and recycling processes

Fibreglass is a composite material which, thanks to its lightness, mechanical strength and resistance to corrosion, have spread enormously in several sectors since the 1950s being used in several mass consumer products, from boats to cars to railway carriages and wind turbine blades.

GFRP is made up of glass fibre (cut or as fabric) held in a matrix of heat setting resins, usually based on polyester, vinylester or epoxy, that polymerise at environmental temperature under the action of special catalysts and accelerators.

Currently in Italy there is no recycling of GFRP. However, there is a remarkable research and development effort internationally to find economic Li sustainable solutions.

The main recycling products identified by technical research are [4]:

  • milled powder
  • short glass fibres/glass
  • monomers and additives
  • liquid or gaseous fuels
  • fuels for cement works

Milled powder is obtained with special mills that grind the GFRP and then sieve it with filters to select the grain size. Machines of this kind are produced by the American Eco-wolf and the German ADM Isobloc. There is also a patent registered by the Italian Gees Recycling s.r.l. for an entire process for obtaining and moulding with thermoplastics of recycled GFRP powder. The machines used for grinding consume a lot of energy and their components are subjected to considerable wear, and the product has low added value because it replaces products with low commercial value such as talcum powder. The commercial use is currently limited to a few producers of products in GFRP who recycle production waste.

Short glass fibres are obtained through pyrolysis, where the GFRP is heated to between 450 and 600°C in the total absence of air, thus vaporising the resin and leaving a solid residue of completely clean glass fibre [5, 6]. These processes are today in extensive commercial use for carbon fibre composites.

Demolishing GFRP

GFRP in particular is prevalently used in large and complex products, as in the marine sector for making boats and yachts. So if recycling is to be economic it also requires a rethinking of the design process, which should take account of demolition at the end of the life-cycle, and the reorganisation of demolition operations, exploiting robots to reduce the use of unqualified personnel in operations such as cutting up the hull which not only takes a lot of manpower but involves safety risks for workers.

In the past few years companies specialising in breaking up boats that have reached the end of their life-cycle have grown up. Typically demolition procedures involve initially dismantling the vessel down to the smallest component; then everything that is recyclable (about 10%) is sent to specialised centres. What remains, including the entire hull and the sails (if present), can only be sent to a tip or, in the best cases, to incinerators.

A study carried out in 2010 in Italy by UCINA showed that the cost of manpower is today the biggest obstacle to implementing an automotive style recycling strategy, both because of the many hours of work needed to dismantle a boat and of the need to find a destination for the fibreglass components.

The report, drawn up by Stefano Pagani Isnardi (2010), estimates there are 17,000 obsolescent boats a year in Italy alone, representing 23,000 tonnes of GFRP that obviously need to be disposed of.

 Designing for dismantling

Designing for correct and industrial sustainable demolition, in accordance with the provisions of Life Cycle Design [11] (LCD) (Keoleian G.A. Et al., 1998), must have as project driver the extension of the life of materials by making the most of this used materials and facilitating stripping down with effective separation of components and/or materials.

The principles of the LCD [12] (Vezzoli C. et al., 2007) for extending the life of materials highlight the need to plan for and facilitate the recycling of materials in components with lower mechanical and aesthetic requirements, so that some components with higher mechanical and aesthetic requirements – but also with greater economic value – can be recovered and reused to make new products, such as new boats or campers.

In addition, in design, we must aim to facilitate the collection and transport of products at the end of their life-cycle, designing components that are the shape that occupies the leased space possible; it could thus be strategic to work for example on stackable and interlocking components.

Again referring to the principles of the LCD [12] (Vezzoli C. et al., 2007), it is necessary to design elements worthy parts most subject to wear and breakage are easy to replace or repair, and so design based on the concept of subsets of elements that can be easily separated and handled as individual elements, minimising hierarchical connections between the parts and seeking the maximum linearity in dismantling.

To facilitate handling of particularly bulky components, it is necessary to design elements with resting surfaces and standardised details that can be grasped, with the resting surfaces close to the centre of gravity of the component.

Design must also concentrate on the shape and accessibility of the various joints, avoiding for example fixing systems that demand, to be opened, simultaneous intervention in several junction points, attempting to reduce the types of joints used, preferring reversible systems (for example two-way snap joints) and making access ways for dismantling operations accessible and recognisable.

In parallel with technical considerations on demolition, dismantling and recovery/recycling of fibreglass, we must also consider what is known about certifications.

The state-of-the-art on the subject today consists of regulations in several sectors and circular economies that already exist (wood, paper, plastic…) But these regulations are completely absent in the GFRP sector. This is clearly connected to the fact that today there is no recognised industrial system operating in fibreglass recycling, so the regulations and certificates in this area remain to be defined.

The same is true of systems for the tracing of the various flows of material and information systems, which remain to be completely defined and adapted to the sector, drawing on experience and knowledge of waste traceability from related sectors.

Current technology has no certain and implementable solution to offer to the serious environmental problem, a huge one at world level.

But the partners in the project described are confident they will be able to supply, at the end of the project, a feasible and profitable solution for reaching this ambitious objective.

 

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