Can Composites be Viable Carbon Sinks?

Grantham Scholar Dexter Blackburn researches bio-derived resins and fibres to be used as more sustainable composite materials in the transport industry.

The project

There is an ever increasing demand for light weighting technologies for the transport industry to drive fuel efficiency and decrease CO2 emissions to meet environmental regulations. Carbon Fibre Reinforced Polymer (CFRP) composites are a key component in these light weighting strategies. However, there is a large carbon footprint associated with the manufacturing of CFRPs due to both the resin matrix and fibre reinforcement components deriving from a complex oil based supply chain. Furthermore, the current end-of-life solutions for these materials are limited, with only 6% of composites being reused and usually in a lower quality format.

Bio-derived resins and fibres could convert atmospheric carbon into a solid form that would not be released into the atmosphere unless pyrollised. If such materials were used to create composite materials for applications with long service times, carbon could potentially be locked away for decades or more. Additionally, by creating composite materials that can be easily unbonded, reshaped or reprocessed, the carbon could be locked away for centuries.

Bio-derived resins and fibres have been commercially available for some time, but their uptake has been slow due to not meeting mechanical specifications for traditional applications and also not being optimised for those competitive supply chains. Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) could be used to both quantitatively assess the environmental impact of bio-based composites at each stage of their life and also highlight new application spaces for these materials. While many LCAs have been performed for fossil-based composite materials, the life cycle of bio-based composites are less understood and it is hoped that by providing quality LCA data on bio-composites, their adoption could be expanded by placing the right composite in the right application.



Dr Rachel Tomlinson

Department of Mechanical Engineering