Glass Fibre Composites Recycling Using the Fluidised Bed: A Comparative Study into the Carbon Footprint in the UK
The UK has no established process for recycling waste glass fibre-reinforced thermosets that are widely used within wind blade structures. Consequently, these materials are typically disposed of in landfills or undergo energy recovery in waste facilities. This study investigates the carbon footprint of the fluidised bed process for recycling glass fibre composite waste, considering the present and future scenarios of composite waste management in the UK. The impact was compared to conventional disposal routes and other prominent recycling technologies, such as cement kiln co-processing and mechanical recycling, by developing energy and material flow models for each waste treatment strategy. Variables, such as the type of waste, the quantity of recycling facilities in the UK, and waste haulage distance, were examined to inform the lowest impact deployment of recycling technologies. Cement kiln co-processing, mechanical, and fluidised bed recycling technologies reduced the global warming potential of processing wind blade waste compared with conventional disposal routes, with impacts of &minus;0.25, &minus;1.25, and &minus;0.57 kg CO2e/kg GRP waste, respectively. Mechanical recycling had the lowest global warming potential resulting from low greenhouse gas emissions associated with the process itself and potentially high offsets by replacing glass fibre in the production of moulding compound. Composite wind turbine blade waste was found to be a particularly promising feedstock for the fluidised bed process due to relatively low resin content diminishing direct greenhouse gas emissions during thermal decomposition, as well as high material recovery offsets due to the high glass fibre content of this waste stream.