The use of fibreglass reinforcement in the production of corrosive-resistant tanks for agricultural applications is a common and consolidated process.
However, the production method uses volatile resins and thinners. This makes it highly polluting and dangerous both for the natural environment and the people who work in its production. Furthermore, the chemical content of the fibreglass does not allow for the recycling of the material once the life cycle of the tank comes to its end.
The objective of the Forget Fibreglass Reinforced (FFR) project was to demonstrate a new ecologically sustainable kind of agricultural tank. It aimed to show that top quality tanks could be made using fully recyclable polymers instead of fibreglass. It planned to use advanced and ecologically sustainable technology to construct the self-supporting tanks.
The project was based on an already demonstrated advanced mega-modelling system. This process was shown to be able to house large, perfectly sealed metallic moulds with high thermal conducting capacities, by using an advanced robotic monobloc moulding system with rotational movement at varying rhythms.
This new technology faced challenges to be applied to the construction of agricultural tanks, notably the size of the containers to be moulded and problems of even distribution of the product. The project sought to overcome these challenges to demonstrate the use of this new technology in this specific application.
The project thus hoped to obtain environmental benefits both by replacing the highly polluting and unhealthy conventional production method and by opening the door to recycling at the end of the tanks’ life.
The project successfully demonstrated production of agricultural tanks of up to 5 000 litres capacity, reinforced with polyethylene rather than fibreglass. It demonstrated the establishment of a clean production cycle - with the recovery and re-use of production rejects - and also the possibility of recycling end-of-life products. This provided environmental, health and economic benefits.
The project calculated that replacement of large fibreglass tanks with tanks made of recyclable polyethylene would have the following environmental benefits:
- Elimination of 116 tons per year of fibreglass, which would otherwise become waste to be disposed of in dumps;
- Elimination of the use of about 200 tons per year of harmful and hazardous chemical products: 104 tons of resins; 68 tons of fibreglass; 15.5 tons of acetone; 5.8 tons of solvents; 3.5 tons of catalysts; and 2 tons of adhesives;
- Elimination of production rejects, equivalent to a further 58 tons per year of waste fibreglass.
Furthermore, the new process brought a significant reduction in health threats to the workers in the factory through the elimination of:
- The production of 2 tons per year of fibreglass dust from the finishing process;
- Styrene vapour from the solvents; and
- The production of 3 tons per year of active carbon, which was previously needed in the process to reduce vapours from finishing paints and styrene.
Compared to the old factory process, the amount of generated waste is now near to zero, the working environment does not smell of toxic solvents, and the workers do not have to wear special protection. After completing the technical scientific part of the project, the beneficiary calculated that a 3 000 litre tank made using the recyclable polymers costs about one third of a fibreglass reinforced tank. The beneficiary will continue to use the new technology as the company (Vetroresina Padana) has substituted the old Fibreglass production line with the innovative PET technology.