Solid Waste & Recycling

Feature

From boats to blades

The fibreglass challenge


Transport Canada is funding research by Jeosal Materials Research Corporation into the development of a fibreglass recycling process. Jeosal is a Kingston, Ontario-based company created to develop next generation polymer composite systems. It collaborates with researchers at Kingston’s Queen’s University.

Jeosal will receive $118,625 to develop fibreglass recycling techniques. The end result could turn transformed materials into sporting goods, electronics and automotive applications.

Over six million pleasure craft are in use in Canada and a large percentage of them are constructed using fibreglass – which is glass-fibre reinforced plastic. A study on Canada’s ship recycling capacity estimates over 43,000 vessels in this country, including those built with fibreglass, reach end-of-life each year.

There are few options for recycling and disposing boats made of fibreglass. As a result, most of these boats end up in a landfill, or worse, abandoned on land or in the water.

As part of the Canadian Plastics Innovation Challenge Transport Canada asked Canadian small and medium-sized businesses to develop environmentally sustainable, energy efficient methods for recycling or reusing glass fibre-reinforced plastic in order to recover as much material as possible. Businesses may receive up to $150,000, under phase one, to develop a proof of concept, proving the scientific and technical feasibility and commercial potential of a novel idea. They may then be eligible to receive funding for up to $1 million to develop a working prototype under phase two.

“Plastic pollution poses a serious threat to the environment, said transport minister Marc Garneau. “By supporting innovative research and developing environmentally responsible recycling options, we are taking concrete steps to protect our planet.”

Big blades

Meanwhile, Jeosal is not the only enterprise working on the fibreglass challenge. On January 8, 2019, the Global Fiberglass Solutions (GFS) recycling and manufacturing plant in Sweetwater, Texas began commercial production of a manufacturing-grade pellet made from recycled wind turbine blades.

The pellets for sale – under the brand name EcoPoly Pellets – are a thermoplastic fibreglass pellet usable in injection mold and extrusion manufacturing processes. Made from a customized blend of wind turbine blade material, EcoPoly Pellets are made to order for customers based on the requirements of the customer’s own manufacturing process.

The pellets have been tested in the manufacturing of decking boards, warehouse pallets, and parking bollards, among other products. Completing the circular cycle, GFS can recycle products manufactured with its material after it has reached its end use. The construction and automotive industries are taking a strong interest in the products, the company says.

In the last four years GFS has diverted over 48,000,000 pounds of wind turbine blade material from landfill. Working with the turbine owners, GFS developed its own digital technology to support blade recycling. The patented software provides real-time data, specs and the location of each blade.

It allows GFS to track the composite structure of each blade, making the material science and recycling process easier and more efficient. Blades are tracked from point of collection all the way through manufacturing.

All new products carry a “Certificate of Manufacturing”, which identifies the recycled blades used in production. OEM and wind farm operators can receive a “Certificate of Decommissioning” and certify the full environmental sustainability of their re-powering projects.

GFS’s Texas plant will be adding a high-volume panel press this year to begin producing recycled fibreglass construction panels. Possible applications include walkways for wind energy installations, walls and substrate flooring in construction, and floor panels for trailers in the automotive sector.