The circular economy model for composites is a difficult one. Most of the currently developed recycling methods are not yet technically ready to be utilized commercially. But utilizing the waste from producing the composite products is possible by co-processing. Co-processing means that the raw material and fuel stem from the same source.
The KiMuRa route demands broad co-operation from the producers to collectors and utilizers. The composite producers collect the cutting waste separately on site. Kuusakoski collects composite materials at all their operating locations and transports them to be pulverized at the processing plant in Hyvinkää. The key to success is properly functioning logistics between the steps, which has been established during the KiMuRa project.
“We took part in the project to test different kinds of equipment and processes. During the project, we were able to make the logistics and storage function well, but it became obvious that the capacity of the plant was not enough to process all the waste.”, says Anu Söderena from Kuusakoski.
A new investment to improve the capacity
Kuusakoski has invested in a new processing plant which will be installed at Hyvinkää. Total cost of the investment rises over 4 million euros which covers the renovation of the existing plant and the building of the new processing line. 35 % of the funding is from Business Finland RRF fund (Recovery and Resilience Facility). The plant will be ready 2024 and it is supposed to be completely functional by the end of 2025 when the development project is finished.
“The new plant will increase the capacity we can handle at Hyvinkää by more than double compared to the current situation. We can accept waste from composite manufacturing companies and consumers. Both are charged by the ton.”
Sufficient amount of composite waste is needed for the plant to be cost-efficient. Therefore, Kuusakoski has participated in different collaborations to gather the material.
“Good collaborations have been carried out with Keep the Archipelago Tidy Association and Hyötytuuli. Keep the Archipelago Tidy Association has done a campaign with Lounais-Suomen Jätehuolto to collect unused boats from Southwestern Finland. Hyötytuuli has started demolishing their oldest windmills to replace them with new ones.”, Söderena describes the accepted composite waste.
The plant will consist of two crushers, covered conveyor belts, magnets and a dust controlling system. Dust control is critical to the process since crushing the composites produces a considerable amount of dust that is harmful to the respiratory system.
“As the plant was to be renovated alongside the building of the new processing line, we decided to improve workplace safety as well. The closed conveyor belts and crushers keep the dust inside the process and makes working in the area easier. The new machinery will also be able to prevent any dust from spreading out in the environment.”
Present – co-processing, what of the future?
After the crushing, the composites are transported to cement production. In this process they replace calcium carbonate in the clinker production phase, and this helps to reduce the CO2 emissions. Clinker is the core ingredient in cement manufacturing. This means that no traces of the fibers are present in cement since they melt in the process. The composite material is fully utilized in the process.
“The important thing is to check the quality of the waste, so it doesn’t contain any chloride compounds because chloride interferes with the clinker production process. Especially waste from consumers needs to be thoroughly checked.”
Since the current co-processing is between energy utilization and material utilization, it is necessary to continue the research to fulfill the requirements of European Union’s waste hierarchy. There are possibilities to repurpose some of the composites as whole, but this requires quite a lot of commercialization and insight of needs and available resources. New possibilities to utilize the crushed composites are also under the scope.
“We are actively looking into different kind of possibilities of utilizing the composite waste. Crushing it is in any case a necessary phase since the waste comes in so many different sizes. There is quite a difference between 75-meter-long windmill wing and a small boat or sports equipment.”, laughs Söderena.
Bulky fibre-reinforced plastic (FRP) products is one of the focus areas of CLIC Innovation’s 4Recycling ecosystem. Read more about this area on the 4Recycling website.
Kuusakoski is a member of 4Recycling open innovation ecosystem.