Composite materials hold great advantages for many industries but their short shelf life can result in large quantities of waste and their high cost and long lead time make sourcing materials for research difficult. Dr James Meredith, from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Sheffield, has come up with a novel solution to these problems by creating the Composites Exchange, a website which gives users the ability to share and acquire unwanted composite materials.
The site focuses on ‘prepreg’ composite materials composed of fabric preimpregnated with resin. These are often only available in large quantities and go out of date quickly, which means much of it can end up in landfill.
The site brings together large consumers of prepreg, with universities and small and medium enterprises (SMEs), who may only require small quantities of composite material. For many small businesses and research organisations the need to purchase minimum order quantities is expensive, leading to waste and limiting access to a wide range of materials. The site will provide greater access for materials to be used in composites research.
Ed Collings, CEO at Forward Composites said: “This site supports our desire to be environmentally responsible. We have a passion for composite development and innovation, so we want to help support composite research by providing access to smaller quantities of aerospace grade materials, which otherwise would not exist in the traditional supply chain. The possibility of helping other people extract value from out of life materials rather than disposing of them is exciting.”
Dr Meredith said: “We want the Composites Exchange website to become the first point of call for anyone wishing to share their usable prepreg material before it goes for disposal. As well as people wanting to get hold of small quantities of prepreg material quickly without the cost and time associated with ordering it new.
“Preventing waste of valuable and energy intensive composite materials is really important. I hope that this tool can facilitate sharing between all users of these materials, create new collaborations and help solve research problems through access to materials that would not normally have been possible.”
Dr Meredith's research focus on high performance sustainable composites utilising recycled carbon and natural fibre alerted him to the potential for sharing materials. The Composites Exchange website has been funded by the Impact, Innovation and Knowledge Exchange fund at the University of Sheffield.