Is recycling EoL composite yachts and boats a viable solution?

On 16 January the workshop on recycling composites from mixed waste streams of yachts and boats took place. During this interactive work session participants could share their experience on and expectations for recycling these vessels.

The workshop was organised as part of the CompositeLoop Project to explore synergies in solutions for EoL wind turbine blades and EoL waste streams from yachts and boats. With 15 attendees representing the whole value chain from decommissioning to recycling, this workshop allowed exchange of cross-domain insights. Presentations were given by Yachthaven Nieuwpoort, OVAM, Febelauto and Simonis Reprocover.

Processing EoL vessels

Currently there are no published numbers for the waste stream of boats in Belgium, but during this session it was estimated that there are 85 vessels/year going to waste, representing around 100 ton/year. The Netherlands have estimated their waste stream to 3,000-4,000 tons of material annually, a European estimate is 140,000 vessels/year. On European level, the order of magnitude is similar to the wind industry, where 50,000 tons/year is estimated for 2020 in Europe. However, the waste stream of boats is more heterogeneous, holding more contaminants, such as wood, metal, (PU) foams, ... Before processing the boat as close as possible to the marina, the vessel should be identified and released by the owner for further processing. This processing comes down to a manual sawing operation, cutting the vessel to fragments as a preparation for landfill or incineration (1,000 EUR/boat of 6-8m). Currently, OVAM considers this as an acceptable EoL option, because there are very few local recycling solutions available that are economically stable today, even though various possible technologies are known and even proved in prototyping scale.

Recycling technologies for composite structures

During the workshop, two options for large EoL composite structures were presented: the co-processing route for the cement industry and the recycling route where composite fragments (granulated feedstock)  are mixed with a binder and compression moulded. Resulting dust from the cutting operations can be used as a filler for SMC/BMC processes, with additional handling and safety challenges.

Reprocover Simonis proposed its solution for applications such as cable trays and street furniture. Although mainly focused on recycling Bakelite, the company's target is shifting towards recycling GFRP with continuous fibres. The company can process 8,000 tons/year. In theory there is no gate fee for ‘granulate waste’ but in practice the pre-processing (shredding, sieving, …) of composite waste streams is charged to overcome the processing costs.  

Conclusions

There is a sense of urgency for finding economic viable solutions in organising the value chain, as it is often the composite product owner who is responsible for recycling actions. It was observed that the recycling route, currently the most environmentally acceptable route, would be more promising if responsibilities were shared among actors in the chain, including material producers, composite converters, owners and recyclers. Financial contributions linked to the responsibilities could be envisaged through the organisation of a voluntary scheme, or through enforcement by new regulations or a combination of both. 

Furthermore, the following key elements to support economic viable EoL scenarios are: the need for collecting and exchanging reliable data, linking the costs (fees or contributions) to the eco-impact and upscaling of mature recycling technologies  on an industrial scale. Step by step, such actions will open new business opportunities for an environmentally justified handling of EoL large composite structures.

CompositeLoop is a feasibility study set up to evaluate the current state of the art for the end-of-life options of the large composite structures. The results of the study will be validated by the industrial partners thanks to the support from the IBN Offshore Energy and IBN Composites. 

(Bron foto: Dreamstime)