THE FUTURE OF COMPOSITES

'Fiber recycling and 3D printing, the future of composites'

Interview with engineer Flavio Caretto of the MATAS Laboratory of ENEA, one of the partners of the EcoCarbonio project, winner of the 'Call Hub Research and Innovation' of the Lombardy Region

by NICOLA CATENARO

From waste to resource and raw material with innovative technical characteristics. This is the new life proposed for carbon fibers by the EcoCarbonio project, one of the 33 winners of the Lombardy Region “Call Hub Research and Innovation” tender, also financed thanks to POR-FESR 2014-2020 funds. Talking about it is the engineer Flavio Caretto of the Laboratorio Materiali Funzionali e Tecnologie per Applicazioni Sostenibili (MATAS) of ENEA, one of the project partners.

Engineer Caretto, what is the goal of the project?
«The EcoCarbonio project aims to industrialize a patent filed by Enea together with the University of Bergamo in which carbon fibers and production and weaving waste, as well as fibers recycled from recycling processes of composite materials that have reached the end of their life, are transformed again in semi-finished products that can be reused on the market again. The concept is simple: the recycled fibers become yarns from which fabrics and new composites are obtained».

What are the main advantages of EcoCarbonio project?
«I believe that the main advantage of this project is to exploit the know-how of the textile industry, from cotton yarns to synthetic materials, to transfer it to another technology that looks at environmental sustainability without neglecting the economic advantages that could derive from the operation».

 

On what assumptions is the project based?
«On the fact that in the European market there are players who already recycle carbon fiber from composite materials using the main process - on which Enea was the first body in the world to file a patent - of pyrolysis. It is a thermal process in which the composites are brought to a very high temperature, around 500 degrees and in the absence of oxygen, in order to volatilize the resin and recover the carbon fiber. However, at this stage, it is tangled and presents technical problems and therefore has a low technical value. The EcoCarbonio project deals with transforming it into a yarn. The other source of supply is production waste which doesn’t to be reworked but can be directly reused».

What will the future of composite materials be?
«The future of composite materials, from a technological point of view, is to be able to automate production processes by moving from traditional lamination to an additive manufacturing process, which means 3D printing that speaks to composite materials using also recycled materials and therefore also aiming at environmental sustainability»

But that way we can't solve the problem of high volume production, can we?
«I am convinced that things will turn out differently in the future. Several companies are organizing themselves in this sense also to tackle the problem of high production volumes».

WHO IS 

Flavio Caretto works as a technologist for ENEA, the Italian Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development, in the Brindisi Research Center. Materials engineer, has twenty years of experience in research and development in the field of technical fibers and composite materials reinforced with them. His main interest is the development of technologies aimed at increasing the environmental sustainability of polymer-matrix composite materials. As demonstrated by various scientific publications, he has an important experience in the field of carbon fiber recycling. On this topic he coordinated numerous national and international scientific projects for ENEA.

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