Bert Gebben is Principal Scientist at Teijin Aramid and he firmly believes that new technologies and partnerships can help us achieve our recycling goals.
“For us, closing the chain is all about ensuring the materials we produce come back to us and can be used again in some form. The planet has a limited supply of certain resources, so we need to leave enough behind for future generations. Our aim is to no longer use new fossil raw materials for our processes. To ensure this, we must build on our existing recycling capabilities, create internal material recycling loops and investigate a variety of recent technologies and approaches”.
There are potentially three ways to recycle aramids. The first method, mechanical recycling, has been in use at Teijin Aramid for more than 15 years. It involves reprocessing used aramid yarn recovered from end-of-life applications for reuse.
We are also exploring two brand-new approaches. Physical recycling involves recovering our aramid yarns in such a way that they are ready to be used again in our processes. A third solution is chemical recycling. This would mean breaking down the collected used materials into their basic chemical components and then rebuilding them to make the starting blocks for our aramids.
Keeping an open mind
We are keeping all three options open. Recycling aramid is complex: used materials are rarely returned to us in a continuous, homogenous, constant feed. There is often extreme disparity in quality and quantity, and it is not easy to separate our aramids from other component products. For example, end products may contain only small qualities of Twaron®, which are often mixed with other yarns, polymers, or metals. And in some cases, our aramid yarns are even chemically linked to the other materials. These complexities mean we will require a combination of different recycling methods in the value chain to meet our circularity goals.
Partnerships and collaborations are therefore an essential part of our strategy. We plan to work closely with external parties – whether companies, customers, institutions, or other value chain partners – and to remain open to innovative ideas. We are also looking at what other industries are doing. For example, we are talking to companies experienced in recycling carbon composite fibers used in vehicle production. Together, we are exploring whether their technology can be used to recycle aramids, which is a highly specialized product.
We are only at the start of the process. We hope to find answers to all these questions over the next few years. And, when the time is right, we will select the most effective and economically viable option for our long-term needs.