Sustainability is becoming an increasingly important subject in not just the materials selection process, but the world. This month the COP26 summit is taking place, bringing together heads of state, climate experts and campaigners to agree coordinated actions to tackle climate change. There are high hopes that this summit will bring about some real change.

There are already a number of zero carbon legislation targets mandated across a variety of industries all with the goal to reduce the impact they have on the environment.

According to the National Composite Centre, the composites industry in particular is showing its support through:

• Light-weighting to reduce emissions

• Manufacturing higher performance products

• Increasing the lifespan of products by decades, through corrosion resistance and durability.

In other words, composite materials can deliver a long service life combined with low maintenance requirements, and lightweight composites result in lower energy consumption throughout a product’s life.

However, the National Composite Centre states that more needs to be done as “only 15% of the 110,000 tonnes of composites produced in the UK each year will be reused or recycled at end-of-life.”

One system to consider is closed loop recycling. This is “the process by which a product is used, recycled, and then made into a new product — therefore not ever entering landfill,” states The most suitable materials for closed-loop recycling are aluminium, glass, and plastic as they are able to maintain their quality throughout many cycles of extraction, production, use, and recycling. According to Novelis, “recycled aluminium provides exceptional environmental and energy saving advantages… closed loop recycling means a used can could be back on the shop shelves in around 60 days.”

BCP’s composite panels consist of aluminium honeycomb core sandwiched in between two aluminium alloy skins. All waste aluminium from our production process is collected and recycled meaning 0% goes to landfill. The aluminium honeycomb core used in our panels is also recyclable. It is manufactured in-house at our Cambridgeshire based headquarters. Throughout our honeycomb core manufacturing process, we focus on monitoring and saving energy:

• Heat Recovery – At one stage of the manufacturing process, stacked sheets of glue line printed foil are pressed together using a heated press to allow the adhesive to cure and bond the sheets of foil along the glue lines forming a block of honeycomb. We have a project in place to decrease the time it takes to cool the press leading to an increase in production throughput and a reduction in heating of the local air. In the future we hope to remove the reliance on gas heating for the factory by recovering and storing the waste heat to use for other processes, such as heating, reducing energy requirements and costs.

• New Oven – After the aluminium honeycomb has completed the manufacturing process, it is rinsed and dried. The large gas-fired drying oven which we had in place previously was old and needed to be on continuously to maintain a constant temperature. By purchasing a new gas oven, we were able to reduce equivalent carbon dioxide (CO2e) emissions, reduce gas consumption, reduce heat loss and contamination into the factory and achieve faster drying times.

• Wastewater recycling – Our aim is to divert the wastewater used in aluminium honeycomb production to be cleaned in our own plant and then reused back in the process almost infinitely. This will have environmental benefits, save money on discharge consent and reduce overall water usage.

• Energy Management System – We are upgrading our current system to monitor electricity, gas and water usage across the factory identifying any areas of concern and establishing where further energy could be saved.

These initiatives impact on UNITED NATIONS GOAL 9, which includes upgrading infrastructure and retrofitting industries to make them sustainable as well as UNITED NATIONS GOAL 12, which aims to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. In addition, our parent company Encocam, aims to reduce waste generation by following a number of reduction, reuse and recycling goals including reducing the number of collections needed for our compactors which are used for aluminium waste, reusing carboard material through the use of a cardboard shredder which allows waste cardboard to be converted into padding material and by providing recycling stations for aluminium cans, batteries and printer cartridges which are collected by specialist companies for recycling.

Where do other industries stand on the subject of sustainability?

The BCP team have had the opportunity to attend a number of exhibitions this year including MarineAM, Railtex and MotorsportAM – all targeted at different industries but highlighting the same important topic of sustainability.

At the MotorsportAM event in particular, which took place at the Silverstone Circuit in October, the motorsport world raved about the appointment of Dr Cristiana Pace – one of motorsport’s leading authorities on sustainability – as the chair of the eSkootr Championship Sustainability Commission. Speaking at the MotorsportAM event, Dr Cristiana Pace claims that sustainability is nothing new in the F1 world and that when she first began working in the industry 20 years ago it was a subject already being considered.

Sustainability was addressed at the event from all angles by the speakers and not surprisingly as the Formula E World Championship became the first global sport to be certified with a net zero carbon footprint from inception. It is also important to mention the argument that F1 innovations such as KERS have been invaluable in the development of hybrid road vehicles and that sustainability in the automotive industry worldwide is supported by motorsport and particularly through F1 innovations. KERS stands for Kinetic Energy Recovery System and was introduced by the FIA to direct the Formula 1 engineering community towards developing greener technologies. “Most commonly kinetic energy is removed using friction brakes… With KERS, that energy is not lost but stored somewhere to be used to drive the car – that somewhere could be in a battery (chemical energy) in a flywheel (mechanical), in an accumulator (hydraulic) and in many others ways too. This stored energy can then be reused to give extra power to the engine with the regulations allowing maximum KERS power of 60kW and energy release of 400kJ in any one lap,” states Racecar Engineering magazine. BCP work with a number of specialist engineering companies who use aluminium composites to provide their own bespoke manufacturing solutions to the automotive and motorsport sector.

Another important industry to mention is rail. BCP manufactures lightweight structural panels for the rail industry and is experienced in working in partnership with prime contractors on prestigious contracts. Our aluminium honeycomb panels faced with high-pressure laminate, which have been used for the doors and walls for Universal Accessible Toilet (UAT) modules, are fully recyclable.

The rail industry is working closely with the government to ensure that it continues to be one of the lowest carbon transport options for passengers and freight. This is where decarbonisation in rail comes to play. According to RSSB decarbonisation “means reducing, and ultimately eliminating, carbon dioxide emissions. It is essential in tackling climate change and a fundamental issue facing all industries. The rail industry intends to decarbonise through improved energy efficiency, new power sources and modal shift.”

On the sample subject, Andy Bagnall, Director General at the Rail Delivery Group, told the Cambridgeshire Chamber of Commerce: “Train travel is more than a journey. By choosing to travel or transport goods by rail, people and businesses are on track to cut their carbon footprint so that together we achieve the net zero target. While rail accounts for 10% of journeys, it is responsible for just one per cent of transport emissions.”

The topic of sustainability is clearly becoming a worldwide priority with a huge drive for change. If you would like to find out more about how we support sustainable manufacturing, please do not hesitate to get in touch. Also remember to keep up to date with all things BCP related via our website here and by following us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.