Making Composites the Sustainable Materials of Alternative

Photo Credit: iStock

By John Schweitzer

August 2, 2022

Success hinges on reducing climate impacts, promoting use-phase sustainability and developing recycling technologies that provide high-value products.

Climate change and its effects are a frequent topic in the news media, but the coverage isn’t merely theoretical. Companies are under increasing pressure to adopt sustainable business practices. If composites manufacturers haven’t yet heard from customers requesting information on how they are addressing climate change, they will soon.

Responding to federal and state regulations, as well as pressure from investors and other stakeholders, organizations from automakers to state Departments of Transportation (DOTs) are asking suppliers to reduce the emission of climate-warming gases and improve the resilience of products in the face of climate change. And while the focus today is on climate change, our industry will also be expected to assess and act to reduce other sustainability impacts, such as the generation of waste (in the form of solid waste, discharge to water and emissions to the air of volatile organic compounds and particulate) and the use of potentially toxic substances.

Making composites the sustainable material of choice is a focus of ACMA’s newly revised strategic plan. Under the plan, ACMA’s Climate Impact Project (CIP) will provide member companies with education and resources to succeed in a sustainability driven marketplace for structural materials. Development of the components of the CIP (shown in Figure 1) will be completed by mid-2023.

Successfully participating in today’s marketplace requires suppliers to provide assessments of the climate impacts associated with the manufacture of their products and raw materials. These cradle-to-gate life cycle assessments (LCA) are needed by end users like automakers and state DOTs so these organizations can assess their own cradle-to-gate (or cradle-to-grave) impacts.

Developing an LCA for a product is the first step in the process of decarbonization, followed by reducing the product’s cradle-to-gate impacts.

Many large companies have announced plans to move toward climate neutral or carbon net zero supply chains. The federal government is pressing recipients of grants or loans for products like highway bridges and water treatment systems and suppliers of products directly to the government such as cars and aircraft to move toward low carbon materials.

An LCA identifies the source of climate impacts associated with the manufacture of a product and raw materials and provides a baseline against which to measure progress in reducing those impacts. Manufacturers of composite products for most markets will have to invest in the routine preparation of LCAs for their products. ACMA’s CIP will include tools and guidance to make the process of developing LCAs more understandable, reliable and cost efficient for composites manufacturers.

Summer 2022 issue

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