Since only a limited amount of A/C alloys can be re-employed into the initial quality, the recycling industry shall be able to identify parts containing high grade alloys to ensure its profitability. Therefore, the AiMeRe project proposes to set up a methodology for high grade alloys processing of ageing A/C. The valorisation of valuable parts requires advanced procedures to identify and differentiate high grades steels alloys such as Cobalt, Titan and Nickel. For these reasons, the consortium will collaborate with A/C manufacturers to define a cartography highlighting the areas of alloys interest. Then, technologies will be assessed to optimise the various phases - dismantling, sorting, processing - until valuable metals can be separated out for further industry usage.
The AiMeRe consortium is composed of ENVISA, a French SME specialising in aviation environment issues and Bartin, a subsidiary of VEOLIA PROPRETE, a world leading company for the valorisation of industry waste. A mid-term workshop will be organised at Bartin’s Chateauroux airport dismantling platform to discuss the study’s results and attend an A/C dismantling to better evaluate mechanically any environment issues. The consortium also proposes to further investigate recycling potentials for plastics and composites as well as identify valuable outcomes for the various metal alloys, in particular in manufacturing industry. At the end of the study, the consortium will provide recommendations for regulations to ensure that A/C recycling is performed in compliance with environment constraints. This ambitious endeavour aims to contribute to the higher competitiveness of the European industry, by fostering innovation. It is also expected to contribute to the Clean Sky - DFE, Design For Environment – strategy by better anticipating what would be the potentials for A/C recycling and how new materials like plastic and composites can be reused in the future.
The aviation industry is under pressure from national and international institutions, from NGOs and also from the public to reduce its environmental impacts while at the same time keeping the same levels of service in terms of safety and efficiency. In particular, the Advisory Council for Aeronautics Research in Europe (ACARE) has established ambitious environmental objectives for 2020 for the aviation industry as a whole, including the reduction of the noise perceived on the ground by 50%. The public-private Clean Sky Joint Technology Initiative (JTI) was launched in order to accelerate the development and market-introduction of new “green” breakthrough technologies for the aviation industry, thereby enhancing the environmental performance of the aviation industry towards fulfilment of the ACARE objectives.
Although many initiatives are taken by the industry to improve the environmental efficiency of air transport operations, little has been done for end-of-life aircraft. The aviation industry has been increasing in the last years; this has taken place since 1970’s due to a boom in the civil aviation. Airbus has approximate 7000 planes in operation while Boeing has 12,000 planes including commercial passenger airliners and freighters. The life cycle of an aircraft is around 10 years for the design and 20-25 years for use (sometimes this can be extended if the airplane is sold to a third world airline). The main reasons for the retirement of airplanes are excessive operational costs, high fuel consumption, constant rises in fuel prices, legislative demands such as expensive technology upgrades, and difficulties in obtaining spare parts.
The AiMeRe (Aircraft Metal Recycling) project was awarded as a result of the Call ID “SP1-JTI-CS-2012-01-ECO-01-050” (“Metal recycling: Recycling routes screening and design for environment”) of the Clean Sky Joint Undertaking (JU), to the consortium formed by ENVISA and Bartin Recycling Group. The objectives of the AiMeRe project are to expect to result in an improved method for recycling aircraft material based on the following objectives:
- Reutilisation of high grade alloys for suitable industry outcomes
- Profitability of recycling practices
- Enhanced compliance to environmental constraints
- Identification of new recycling routes and opportunities
Since only a limited amount of aircraft alloys can be reemployed to the initial quality, the recycling industry needs to be able to identify parts containing high grade alloys to ensure the profitability of the recycling activity. Therefore, the AiMeRe project proposes to improve the process for recovering metals from end-of-life aircraft. The valorisation of valuable elements requires advanced procedures to identify and differentiate different materials, metals and alloys. For this reason, the first step was to provide a cartography highlighting the areas containing materials and alloys of interest. Afterwards, technologies and procedures were assessed in order to optimise the various phases of the materials recovery process—dismantling, sorting, processing—until valuable metals can be sorted out for further industry usage.
The AiMeRe consortium is composed of ENVISA, a French SME specialising in environmental impacts of aviation, and Bartin Recycling Group, a subsidiary of Veolia Propreté, a world leader for the valorisation of industrial and municipal waste.
Project Context and Objectives:
It is important for Clean Sky JTI to evaluate the environmental impact of new techniques and operations in order to provide decision-makers with a full picture compatible with ACARE objectives. It is also necessary to understand the environmental challenges air operators will be confronted with in the coming decades. In the context of the AiMeRe project, Clean Sky JTI has decided to address the issues surrounding metal recycling in the framework of the Eco-Design chapter; a set of R&D activities focused on future design and production until the final withdrawal from service and recycling of parts. The aim is to optimise the use of raw materials and to reduce negative environmental impacts while ensuring compliance with the REACH directive.
The main objectives of the AiMeRe project were to evaluate and to improve the dismantling and materials recovery process for end-of-life aircraft and to devise recommendations for Design for Environment in order to facilitate the recycling of future aircraft. Another important objective was to trace the current recycling routes of end-of-life aircraft materials and to find new ideas for high-value added industrial applications.
The project began with a state-of-the-art study on the aircraft recycling field, the current legislation, potential environmental problems and companies engaged in aircraft recycling activities. As part of the dissemination activities, a mid-project workshop was organised at Bartin Recycling Group’s dismantling platform at Chateauroux airport in France. The aim of this workshop was to create exchanges with industry and other actors (most participating in the project’s Advisory Group) involved in aircraft recycling issues.
The AiMeRe project consisted of six work packages (WP):
- WP1 State of the art
- WP2 Assessment of dismantling process and improvement potential
- WP3 Processing and metallurgical trials and sample production
- WP4 Potential field of application in aircraft or other industry areas
- WP5 Dissemination and design for environment activities
- WP6 Project management
In the first reporting period of AiMeRe project, WP1 was finalized and good progress was made on WP5 (workshop organisation and dissemination). WPs 2, 3 and 4 were also started. These activities were finalized during the second reporting period. Project management activities are conducted successfully with the Topic Manager and Project Partners by organising periodical meetings and reviewing the tasks and deliverables in order to make necessary changes and updates.
The objective of Work Package 1 was to set up a comprehensive picture of the current aircraft recycling market place including stakeholders, professional associations and R&D programs. The comprehensive WP1 report summarises all aircraft recycling actors in Europe, North America and Asia-Pacific, as well as regulations and guidelines concerning the recycling industry. In addition, the report contains a detailed analysis of the current recycling practices and the various issues faced by the waste industry. Best practices in aircraft dismantling are also treated as well as the potential environmental consequences of unregulated dismantling.
As part of the WP5, a mid-term workshop is organised in beginning of July 2013 at Bartin’s Chateauroux airport based dismantling platform to discuss the study’s results. In addition, the workshop participants were able to attend an aircraft dismantling to better evaluate engineering and environmental issues. As part of the WP5, an Advisory Group was built and invited to the workshop. The AG feedback was later used to draft recommendations on Design for Environment and standardisation issues. As part of WP2 and WP3, Bartin explored various potential process improvements and send various samples for analysis (notably plugs and connectors). The cartographies of aircraft materials and wastes were also conducted in the scope of these WPs.
Although it is not the main concern for aviation, aircraft recycling is beginning to gain public awareness and the environmental impacts of the growing number of aircraft to be recycled will be an important issue in the future (especially with the rising use of composites). The AiMeRe project is one of the first Clean Sky projects on aircraft recycling, and it provides awareness to the community on how to handle end-of-life aircraft in a more environmentally friendly manner and how to increase the profitability of recycling industry.
To summarize, the main scientific results of the AiMeRe project were:
- Information on the current state of the aircraft recycling industry, current recycling practices and legislative aspects
- Detailed information on aircraft composition both for valuable metals and dangerous waste
- Economically and environmentally improved dismantling and cutting methods
- Economically and environmentally improved sorting and processing methods
- New information on potential fields of application for metal alloys in aircraft industry
- New information on potential fields of application for metal alloys in other industries
- Constitution of an Advisory Group and dissemination activities
- Feedback for Design for Environment activities
The main technical results included:
- State of the art study on the aircraft recycling industry (including aircraft recycling main stakeholders, status of current recycling practices and of guidelines, standards and regulations)
- Aircraft cartographies for valuable metals and other materials
- Aircraft cartographies for waste
- Assessment of enhanced dismantling and cutting methods
- Assessment of enhanced sorting and processing methods
- Analysis of plugs and connectors (containing gold)
- Study of potential fields of application for metal alloys in aircraft industry
- Study of potential fields of application for metal alloys in other industries
- Recommendations for design for environment and preliminary life cycle assessment of aircraft metals recycling
- Workshop organisation
- Public website with access to information (public deliverables and workshop output)
As an outcome of the AiMeRe project, Bartin Recycling Group was able to improve its dismantling and materials recovery process both in economic and environmental terms. Notably, Bartin established cartographies for aircraft types from different constructors and was therefore able to target high-value added parts for manual separation. Cartographies were also established for various types of dangerous waste (radioactive materials, etc.) present in old aircraft. In addition, the separation phase was improved for non-metallic metallic materials; this allows the optimization of the quality of the recovered scrap.
The cartographies are the most important achievement of the project: they have allowed Bartin to discover the existence of various valuable metals and to recover the parts containing them (such as tungsten counterweights and titanium beams). In addition, waste cartographies have ensured that all dangerous waste is accounted for. Enhanced dismantling and cutting methods have also been a key achievement: for instance, composite luggage racks can now be removed cleanly, which improves the quality of the recovered metals as well as facilitates the work of the dismantling personnel. In terms of general knowledge, the state of the art study provided a fountain of information on the aircraft dismantling and recycling sector (information which ENVISA is already exploiting in new projects related to end-of-life aircraft).
Research on new, high-value added industrial applications showed that aluminium alloys that are employed in aircraft can also be found in various other applications (notably in the car industry, buildings and construction and bicycle frames) and that end-of-life aircraft materials might be reused in these applications. Currently, old aircraft materials mostly get downcycled; aircraft aluminium is notably used in electric steel making. One of the main conclusions of the project is that recycling itself is not enough: it is urgent to find end-use applications for the recovered materials in order to make recycling economically feasible and not to waste this new “urban mine”.
The AiMeRe deliverables also included a draft of recommendations for Design for Environment and standardisation. With respect to future aircraft, the recommendations state notably that
- Ideally, there should be less different materials and material combinations
- Less (preferably no) hazardous and toxic materials
- Recycling should be facilitated through better design (Design for Recycling)
- Eg less use of glue, more easily removable fasteners
- Need to provide more information for recyclers on aircraft composition
- Eg devise and information system for aircraft recycling
As a conclusion, need to move from “end-of-pipe” waste management to a “closed loop” approach for future aircraft and to take recycling issues into account very early in the design phase.
Besides economic and environmental issues, aircraft recycling also faces many other legislative, geographical and other challenges. There is currently no international or European legislation on aircraft recycling; to ensure the stability of the activity, the legislative context of the activity needs to be clarified at the European level. In order to phase the geographical challenges of aircraft abandoned on tarmacs all over the world, one idea would be to establish European recycling clusters to create economies and scale and ensure that end-of-life aircraft are dealt with in an environmentally sound manner.
The AiMeRe project is providing very valuable input to a not so well-known part of the aviation industry (end of life). The project will help to increase the awareness of the problems of the industry such as the difficulty of making the business profitable as there are currently no eco-taxes or other economic incentives for recycling. Economic uncertainties are also created by highly volatile world metal prices. Improvements in the dismantling process, as explored during the project, will no doubt help to make the activity more profitable as well as more environmentally sound.
The potential environmental issues and health hazards created by non-regulated dismantling in third world countries were also be highlighted during AiMeRe. In addition, the project provided valuable input on eco-design issues that impact the recyclability of future aircraft and therefore their environmental impact.
The results of the project might also be used to boost the European aircraft recycling sector; for instance, the creation of centralized recycling clusters (as proposed during the AiMeRe workshop) would contribute to the competitiveness of the European recycling industry and lead to job creation in the field.