Composite materials aren’t known for their recyclability. For everything they bring to the table in terms of strength and durability, they also bring a significant sustainability challenge. More and more composites are being put into circulation every year.
Can fiberglass, one of the world’s most beloved composites, be recycled? What’s in store for the future of fiberglass recycling as scientists continue to look for ways to make composites as green as they are accessible?
The Sustainability of Fiberglass
Fiberglass was originally developed with the intention of creating a material that lasts a very long time. Unfortunately, its high mechanical strength means it’s not only durable, it’s actually difficult to dispose of. A majority of fiberglass products are currently made using reinforced plastics (FRPs) which do not biodegrade over time. An end-of-life solution is desperately needed as fiberglass products begin to cycle out of circulation.
Thankfully, fiberglass is already one of the more sustainable composites being manufactured today. Its production requires less energy than other comparable composites which means fewer fossil fuels and lower carbon emissions.
The Science of Recycled Fiberglass
Many scientists agree that aged fiberglass is best reused rather than destroyed. Using techniques such as grinding, incineration, and pyrolysis, end-products can be produced using old fiberglass as “filler.” Concrete, in particular, is an excellent application for previously-used fiberglass as the FRP lends necessary strength and durability to the end-material.
Recycled fiberglass can be used as a filler in resin, and also in tandem with other recycled products such as tires, wood, and even roofing tar. This closed-loop system is the ideal scenario for fiberglass recyclers because it utilizes every component of the composite without requiring a significant investment of energy or capital.
The Future of Fiberglass Recycling
Much of the promise in the fiberglass recycling sector lies within the chemical or mechanical separation of the components of fiberglass or fiberglass textiles. When the bonds between the glass, resin, and other materials such as polyester matting can be broken, the components can then begin to be recycled separately.
The two most promising methods of separating resin from composite fibers include thermal and solvolysis, both of which can be applied to cured parts. In some cases, the material output resulting from mechanically-destroyed fiberglass can even be used as an energy source for powering future processes. Successfully repurposing the materials found in fiberglass can be done, but the techniques are not simple. Significant study is still needed to further the science of composites recycling.
B&W Fiberglass is committed to sustainability within the fiberglass industry. We’re constantly innovating new ways to reduce the environmental impact of our manufacturing processes and identifying opportunities in which recycled fiberglass can be applied.
Would you like to learn more about our involvement in the search for sustainable fiberglass? Reach out to the B&W team today to get started.