De-buzzing the Composite Industry Buzzword – Sustainability 

(Fairmat’s Takeaways from the JEC World 2023)

Event Recap

JEC World, the international composites trade show – is as they say — the ‘place to be’ for all things composite. The entire composites value chain, from raw material producers to downstream manufacturers, convened in Paris for three days in April.

And, guilty as charged for overdoing our emotions here — but for Fairmat, and most likely for other exhibiting startups — this annual event is sort of a reflection of our year-on-year growth.

A little bit about us; Fairmat is a deep tech startup founded in 2020, and we are committed to building a sustainable manufacturing ecosystem by recycling carbon fiber composites and developing advanced recycled composite materials.

With an ordinary plan at hand and a high-spirited team, we debuted at the JEC last year (2022). Rather successful, the 2022 event gave us the confidence we needed at the time. (Read more)

Resuming to the present day, we’d like to share our post-event film and takeaways from the JEC World 2023, and we hope to see you at the next one!

What is discussed in this article?

  1. ‘Sustainability’ was the buzzword at the JEC World 2023.
  2. Key conferences and discussions about sustainability and circularity at the event.
  3. Fairmat’s stance on the ‘buzz’.

Sustainability, making it mainstream (from the bottom-up)

Sustainability in composites is becoming mainstream, even from the bottom up.

Composites have long been lightweight, energy-efficient favorites of the materials industry. 

Whether it’s the mechanical properties of glass or carbon fiber, they count on — or the popular fact that most composites are 50% lighter than aluminum. “Composites replacing other materials” has always been a topic of discussion. 

OEMs and suppliers have benefited from these advanced materials for quite some time. And the 33,000 professional visitors at the JEC World 2022 helped us understand that this interest is not exclusive and now extends to the end-users too. 

Consumers are now well aware of the performance benefits of composite applications. And perhaps, they are increasingly interested in learning the specifics — where the product comes from, what it is made of, or how sustainable it is. 

Taking a cue from the consumers themselves — the market already seems to be skewing the demand in their favor. 

In the Instagram post below — you can see that consumers are looking for ‘carbon fiber plated shoes’ (as is also marketed by the suppliers) instead of ‘lightweight trainer shoes.’ 

Composite industry’s halfway around the ‘loop’ 

One of the common threads connecting this ecological ethos of the entire composites value chain — is their stance on ‘sustainability.’

Sustainability is now frequently being tied back to composites and for a good reason. 

In the session “4 Rs: Composites in a Circular Economy” at JEC World 2023, panelists presented possible circular models for Composite Materials through recycling, reusing, repurposing, and repairing.

Among the circular applications discussed were; Mitsubishi Chemical Group’s “industrial way” of recycling composites and CompPair (an EPFL spin-off company), introduced its composites repairing technology. 

The discussions also brought forward concerns about the growing demand for virgin composites and composites’ long life span creating challenges for their end-of-life treatment.

Recycling composites are increasingly seen as an answer to ‘the security of supply’ issues. 

In his keynote address at the JEC, George Kotsikos (Project Officer – European Commission) mentioned that “the composite waste will amount to 680,000 tons of waste by 2025, whereas the recycling capacity is just 1/7th of that”

According to him, reducing composite waste — is both a challenge and an opportunity. 

Waste reduction through life-prolongation, reuse/refurbishing, remanufacturing/repurposing, and recycling — as George mentioned, are the many challenges we must overcome. 

But in another session about “Lightweight Made in Europe: Challenges and Opportunities,” experts highlighted the lack of reliable data and inconsistency in the supply of recycled materials. 

Additionally, the lack of robust comparable data on the materials’ sustainability adds to the unpopularity of ‘recycled’ materials and is found to be a matter of concern for most industrialists.   

To this effect, upcoming regulations will draw a focus on these complex challenges, as discussed during the European Commission’s presentation on “Advanced Lightweight Materials.”

Lower taxes to incentivize — lower energy-intensive processes and materials, standardization of recycled composite materials, classification and labeling of the recyclates, and initiatives like a material passport — will help drive confidence in secondary materials among manufacturers, subsequently driving their adoption.

Fairmat’s two cents

As of today, the composites industry is closing in on becoming its most sustainable self by starting off small to take the next big leaps. 

By starting to proactively think about responsibly managing their waste, avoiding landfilling or incineration of composite waste, optimizing the waste collection process, improving the logistics, and mastering new technologies.  

Manufacturers increasingly prefer using bio-based raw materials and are exploring designing products for circularity

SGL Carbon recommended the decarbonization of the activity sector by implementing green energy measures in their conference about Sustainability Levers in Carbon Fiber Industry

Likewise, the industry is also actively exploring different ways and methods for large-scale recycling

Ample signs show the gravity of the matter, but as an industry, we’ll have to do better than just relying on ‘signs.’ 

Large-scale recycling solutions implemented today undermine their benefits, as they rely on extensive use of chemicals and energy. 

Fairmat is committed to providing sustainable recycling solutions and second-generation materials use cases with minimal impact on the environment.

Based on the Simplified Life Cycle Assessment, Fairmat’s mechanical recycling process offers the most sustainable composite waste management solution. (Read more about sustainable recycling)

The Simplified LCA report reveals that even though mechanically recycling the composite waste results in partially-degraded recyclates — it has approximately 9 times lower carbon emissions (accounting for the avoided impacts) than thermal recycling (commonly used in the industry.)

Furthermore, mechanical recycling results in much lower emissions than all the other waste management solutions. 

(Request the Simplified LCA Report to learn more)

The forthcoming regulations for standardizing sustainability will help create a new demand for recycled materials, thus increasing competitiveness among the recycling players. 

Cost-efficient, sustainable waste management solutions are more likely to remain viable and sustainable in the long run.

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