Sustainability, aerospace: carbon fiber recovery experimentation underway

The Hera Group-Leonardo collaboration

The Hera Group, through the subsidiary Herambiente, and Leonardo, through the Aerostructures Division, will collaborate in the study of the recovery of carbon fibers contained in polymer matrix composite materials used for the construction of aircraft parts. Thanks to the innovative plant created in Emilia-Romagna by the multi-utility and the know-how developed in the laboratories of the Leonardo group, the precious material will be recycled with positive consequences in terms of sustainability and circularity.

The “full-scale” experimentation of a future industrial activity for the recovery of carbon fiber in the aerospace sector is therefore underway using advanced technologies that will allow its reuse as a secondary raw material. Leonardo, through academic and industrial partnerships, has developed over the years a profound expertise in recycling materials and processes and, supported by the experience in waste recycling of Herambiente, the leading national operator in the environmental sector, is actively committed to closing a circular supply chain on an industrial scale also in this strategic sector.

For Orazio Iacono, CEO of the Hera Group, “this partnership, fully consistent with the Hera Group’s objectives of decarbonisation and development of the circular economy, also has a strategic value with a view to promoting short (reshoring) and circular supply chains in Italy and Europe. These pioneering projects require alliances in which each partner makes resources and skills available to accompany the green transition processes of many national industrial champions active in different business sectors – aerospace, but also automotive, nautical and furniture to name a few some – and thus generate environmental, economic and social benefits for numerous supply chains”.

“A collaboration not only aimed at recovering and regenerating carbon fibre, but also projected towards innovation because it is capable of consolidating and further developing a know-how that makes the recycling of carbon fiber reinforced composites increasingly more efficient. Thanks to this agreement with Herambiente, Leonardo is even more committed to maintaining the circular value of waste, reducing the use of virgin raw materials and using recycled material also for internal applications, as envisaged by the broader Sustainability strategy of the Group”, says Stefano Bortoli, Managing Director of Leonardo’s Aerostructures Division.

Leonardo’s Aerostructures Division will give Herambiente part of the waste fibers deriving from the construction of the components of some of the most well-known civil aircraft in the commercial aviation sector. Just to name a few examples, the stabilizer of the ATR turboprop, the fuselage and horizontal stabilizer of the Boeing 787 or, again, the tail planes of the Airbus A220.

In the innovative plant under construction in Imola (BO), Herambiente will apply pyrogasification to these wastes and, through a hot technology, the resins of the composite materials (which are gasified) are separated from the carbon fibres. This process, developed with the collaboration of the Department of Industrial Chemistry of the University of Bologna and Curti SpA of Castelbolognese (RA), will be able to regenerate new fiber with performances comparable to new ones, also thanks to the studies carried out by Leonardo on theme.