More and more companies are focusing on sustainability and circularity. In the composite production branche, this equals a shift from the use of thermoset materials to thermoplastic materials. Thermoplastic materials bring benefits for both the environment and your company, and are more sustainable and circulair than other materials. Read on to find out more about the research and what the benefits are for your company.
The aerospace industry is paving the way for cost-effective use of thermoplastic materials
Thermoplastic polymers are an alternative to thermoset polymers in composites and hold promise for increasing production rates, sustainability, and circularity. Thermoplastic composites in the aerospace industry are targeting fuselage structures. But also making significant inroads with aircraft already in service. Boeing in particular is in the midst of a concerted effort to convert smaller structural parts (brackets, clips, fasteners) from thermoset to thermoplastic composites (Compositesworld, 2021). Due to the massive expansion of composite additive manufacturing we also see thermoplastic composites used for autoclave tooling in aerospace.
Other industries are also benefiting from thermoplastic materials. For example, to provide a corrosion resistance, high strength, and long lifespan pedestrian bridge. DSM designed a glass fiber reinforced thermoplastic PET, which will be used for Royal HaskoningDHV designed lightweight pedestrian bridges. With lead projects and research like these two above, a way is paved for other industries to use thermoplastics in a cost-effective way.
Thermoplastic material and the benefits for the environment and your business
Thermoplastic material can be melted again and again, making a thermoplastic product the raw material for the future. This puts an end to the waste problem on this planet. In the long term, this makes a huge contribution to a circular economy.
In the short term, the benefits are also undeniable. For example, a thermoplastic product that has been damaged is easier to repair than a thermoset product. Thermoset breaks and needs to be replaced as a whole, but thermoplastic can be repaired by remelting it. Another advantage for your company in the short term, is that the waste that is created can be reused. Because you can remelt the material, it does not have to end up in the waste dump, but you can make more products from it.
Due to the rapid development of thermoplastic material and the many studies, recycling is possible on an ever-increasing scale and the material is becoming more widely applicable. One of the best known examples in this field is PET bottles. But in the future it is not inconceivable that we will only print bridges with thermoplastic material, and remelt them again after 50 years into furniture, for example, when the bridge has to be replaced by a somewhat more modern model.
The current state of affairs: thermoset vs. thermoplastic material
Many companies nowadays are already working with thermoplastic material, and the benefits for the environment and the long-term production costs are undeniable. But despite the ongoing research, thermoplastic material remains in some cases, not strong enough for the application and more expensive than traditional material. Fortunately, for a lot of applications and industries, this is not the case. They benefit from the following advantages of thermoplastic material:
- Higher impact resistance
- Waste and old products can be remelted endlessly
- Raw materials do not have to be extracted over and over again
- Reduction of footprint in the environment
- Reduction of material costs and therefore cheaper production in the long term
- Products are easier to repair by remelting the material
The entire composite world is busy reusing materials, but we still have a long way to go. By sharing information and focusing more on circularity, we can all increase the quality of the products – and of our planet.
3D printed lounge chair with recycled PP with glass fiber
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Charléne van Wingerden