Strength and lightness, excellent performance at high temperatures, few potentially dangerous weaknesses such as fractures and fatigue - composites can offer numerous advantages over more conventional materials, such as steel, in a host of applications. Their tailorability allows for virtually any combination of properties. Yet a truly glaring drawback to polymer composites remains their poor performance in the sustainability arena.
Not only does the production of the most commonly used reinforcing fibers-glass, carbon, aramid-require an enormous amount of energy, other issues include the emission of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), toxicity from manufacture and the dearth of feasible options for recycling and reuse. Companies working in the composites industry have long grappled with issues surrounding composite waste and end-of-life options for fiber-reinforced polymer materials. Landfill, the preferred option, was banned by most EU Member States at the end of 2004, while for incineration, the EU has imposed limits on the permitted level of energy content of the submitted waste. Moreover, incinerated polymer composite waste generates ash, which must subsequently also be landfilled....