Doing Sustainability differently

At PRF, we are proud to be part of an industry that is essential in leading the fight against climate change globally, and we are working hard to make our contribution towards this. We believe that much more can be done to increase the sustainability of traditional composite materials, by looking at the life cycle of our products, from product development to processing, to recycling.

We are investing in product development, manufacturing innovation and operational improvements to lower not only our impact at every stage – but to help our customers to do the same. With this in mind, we are developing groundbreaking materials that:

  • Use less energy to transport and store
  • Have reduced impact in processing
  • Require less consumable plastic – in manufacturing, packaging and processing
  • Use recycled composite materials, extending the life cycle of materials and reducing waste

REEPREG

We are delighted to be launching our new REEPREG - Our new carbon prepreg material made with recycled chopped carbon mat

REEPREG offers a number of features for improved sustainability:

  • Improved circularity, we are collecting our carbon prepreg kit cutting waste which will soon be recycled into new REEPREG material. In the near future, components made using REEPREG will be able to be recycled into new REEPREG material, through a number of cycles.
  • Waste prevention, reducing landfill and energy used in storing/curing prepreg waste
  • Reduced energy in processing: REEPREG can be manufactured using our RP570 eXpress cure prepreg system, which saves significant energy in processing.

Traditional materials that use less energy

Whilst we recognise the contribution that bio materials may make in the future of composites, at PRF we believe that we can do more by finding ways to improve the circularity of traditional composite materials; improving their sustainability whilst retaining their superior composite properties. As such, we are investing significantly in product development, where we can improve manufacturing and processing, save energy and reduce plastic and other waste materials.

Q.tool prepreg tooling technology

With its unique construction, our new Q.tool prepreg tooling technology has been designed to reduce labour time by up to 50%, which contributes to a reduction of energy used in the laminating space as well. As we have also reduced the debulk requirements to as few as one, we have additionally reduced the energy per tool and this also reduces the use the use of plastic consumables to a minimum – we estimate that for each square meters of tooling, Q.tool saves at least 1sqm of breather, bagging and release film and c. 4m of tacky tape at least per tool per debulk. More consumables can be saved with large/complex mouldings.

eXpress cure systems RP570 and RP570 FR

The amount of energy saved curing these eXpress cure prepreg systems is significant. Using a press, the temperature is kept constant during the entire process of just 4-6 minutes. This is compared to most standard cure systems with which the temperature will be lowered for demoulding and raised for curing, with about 15-20 minutes at the curing temperature. When processed using an autoclave, cure cycle is also considerably reduced: as much as one third to half of the original time, depending on the autoclave. Both of these systems offer huge savings in the energy used to make a part, without compromising the component properties. We are in the process of measuring and quantifying this energy reduction. When the eXpress cure systems are processed in a press, there is also no requirement for consumables; bags, release film, breather, tacky tape etc., all of which are plastic-based materials and the constructor can achieve two A surfaces.

Storing our prepreg systems

We have tested and established that all of our 120°C component prepregs will store for 9 months at +5°C and 2 years at -20°C. This offers significant savings in energy used to keep prepregs at -20°C, but it also means that our prepregs can stay in storage for longer and reduces material waste if these prepregs are not used within 12-18 months of manufacture. We are also establishing a portfolio of products with increased out life, for example our eXpress cure prepreg systems. 

Recycling

We believe it is essential to look at the full life cycle of our products – from manufacturing to component to recycling that component. Recycling is a significant challenge in the composites industry and one that bio products do not answer yet. Alongside the launch of REEPREG, we are sending our glass waste to be recycled into new products and components.

Operational Improvements

Alongside our product development programme, we are making operational improvements to ensure that we manufacture in more sustainable ways and we lower our impact across all of our sites. We now have 3 factories that are powered in part by solar energy, having completed in February 2024 the installation of a system array of 192 solar panels on our head offices and prepreg manufacturing facility. This system alone is estimated to generate 87,560 kWh per year. 

In addition, our new manufacturing innovation – Fast to Freeze – allows us to make significant savings in the use of plastics, such as bagging films and end supports, consumed in our prepreg manufacturing. We are now saving over 50% of the plastic consumables that would have been used operationally. We are working to eliminate single use plastics in our manufacturing and to recycle this plastic – up to 99% of consumable plastics used in our manufacturing are now recyclable. Using this new method, we are also reducing the number of cardboard boxes used as well.

We are auditing all of our packaging and will have forth coming announcements of how we are reducing plastic and cardboard waste. 

We have more to do and are committed to improving our operational efficiency and reducing the impact of our manufacturing and we will be undertaking these objectives over the next year, as part of our continuous improvement and commitment to improving our efficiency and sustainability.

Members of Composites UK Sustainability Subgroup

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Solar Panels at PRF 2024
“One of our prime objectives is to look at waste elimination or making use of that waste to regenerate such waste into a product that can be put back into the supply chain. Where neither is possible, PRF will look to make use of materials that can either be recycled, are biodegradable or compostable or have a high recycled content.

We are looking at raw material waste streams and have identified several opportunities whereby material that would be land filled, can now be converted into raw materials that can be used in other product forms. We are also looking at where PRF can make use of such materials to convert into prepreg forms for supply back into the industry, which will help our customers with sustainability objectives.”
Dave Ellson, MD, PRF Composite Materials