Newsletter 5

As the world attempts to gain control over the pandemic, our project reaches the end of its third year. The crisis has caused some delays, but the work can and will continue. Read on to find out what has been going on in the project before and during the virus.

In this newsletter:

  1. Thoughts on COVID-19
  2. Project Update
  3. Past events
  4. Future plans

1. Thoughts on COVID-19

As everyone else, our consortium members have been under lock-down and working from home where possible. This has not been easy considering the need to get the prototypes built and tested, as well as the necessary lab work. Essentially, work on the demonstrations has been paused while the virus plays itself out. This will require some flexibility, but the consortium will adjust, and the project will continue at full speed as soon as it is safe to do so.

But the effects of the Corona Virus will go further than just the current health crisis. What those effects may be is difficult to predict, but it is important to consider the possibilities so that we can be more thoughtful in our responses to the upcoming challenges and changes.

The last few years have seen tremendous progress towards new circular approaches that are based on resource conservation, which could be argued is a function of the world’s constant growth past the limits of its long-term resource and renewal capacity. From an economic perspective, circular approaches tend to find it difficult to compete with traditional linear value chains even under normal circumstances. So what about in the post pandemic world?

Health and hygiene concerns have already pushed the hard-fought bans on single use plastics into controversy, with widespread calls to reverse these policies. Lower industrial activity levels have also helped to reduce oil prices to such an extent that for a day they were actually negative. Can circular plastics still compete with linear plastics when the raw materials and energy costs drop so significantly, increasing the price difference between virgin and recycled to unacceptable levels – particularly in a crisis. Recycled plastics already have an aesthetic disadvantage compared to virgin materials, but now there is also a possibility that the public opinion will shift away from reuse, rightly or wrongly considering it hygiene risk.

In the short term we must accept without question the necessary measures to keep the public healthy and safe. But things that were important before the crisis will still be important after the crisis. And the deteriorating wellbeing of the planet is also fast becoming a direct threat to our own health. There are already some estimates that the number of people saved by the improved environmental situation arising from lower production might outstrip the loss of human life to the virus.

In the long term there is plenty of work to do. The question for policy makers as they scramble to put together plans to restart stimulate economies, is what kind of an economy do we want to rebuild? The easy option would be to invest in business as usual, go back to where were before. But if we must restart anyway, why not rebuild a more resilient and sustainable economy now. Circular resource management is the only way we can ensure our long-term wellbeing without massively reducing consumption and our standard of living in the traditional linear model.

2. Project Update

The EcoBulk consortium met last in Pozzuoli, kindly hosted by partner IPCB-CNR. The aim of the meeting was mainly to discuss the plans and progress towards the implementation of the demonstrators, which are due to be in place in 2020. Following the three chosen industries, each partner presented their work towards their respective demonstrations.

M30 Consortium Meeting in Pozzuoli
The EcoBulk team at the IPCB-CNR labs in Pozzuoli

Furniture Industry

Moretti have been refining their modular furniture concept. Several improvements have been made to the original concept after testing. The original design used screws and glue to hold the elements together but using the fastener tool they have found a suitable replacement plastic mechanical fastener which makes disassembly much easier and economical. The upholstery for the seats will use Velcro to attach for ease of maintenance and refurbishment.

The modular furniture units will be demonstrated at Warwick University and Coventry University in the UK, at the University of Camerino in Italy, and at the Lipor offices in Portugal. They will be used for student accommodation furniture as well as general office use. For office purposes, Moretti will be producing a bigger unit (50cm cube) to create a bigger desk surface.

Moretti Compact Module Furniture Bedroom
Moretti modular furniture prototypes
Particleboard with the new binders and increased recycled materials

To further improve the circularity of the furniture, new particleboards have been formulated to increase the amount of recycled particle board they may contain. Usually there is a limit of how much recycled particleboard can be used due to the formaldehyde emissions which must be avoided. By using new binders developed by AkzoNobel, KEAS Kastamonu has been able to produce new boards that include up to 50% recycled particleboard – which compared to the standard 25% currently used in Italy by Moretti is a huge step forward. Cranfield has been experimenting with bio-based binder resins that can use 100% recycled particle board but only for one cycle.

Automotive Industry

MAIER has finished production of the test injection mould and is now able to produce samples for their dual layer central fascia component concept. This is where the fascia component will have a virgin material front side for aesthetic purposes and a circular back side from recycled materials. The production has been set up as a fully automated production line in the same way normal parts would be produced.

MAIER will be testing the produced components and validating its ability to re-manufacture the same component using the same materials through several cycles of EOL recovery. The fascia components will be on display in their showroom so that their clients can be informed of the developments towards a more circular approach to automotive components.

Central fascia concept on display at the Maier showroom

MicroCab has continued its development of the new vehicle life extension model by maintaining ownership and providing the vehicle as a service. Their model includes regular maintenance and refurbishment, so it not only maintains the original function but also maintains the value by ensuring that aged components are replaced to keep the vehicle in top condition.

The MicroCab 20 year vehicle lifecycle breaks down the expected longevity of subsystems and schedules timely replacement and refurbishment.

The lifecycle of the vehicle has been analysed based on the expectations for each constituent part. In this way, a schedule can be made for the timely and preventive replacement of parts to keep the vehicle not only in working order, but also at a high economic value through refurbishments. Oakdene Hollins conducted a comparison in total cost of ownership, per mile, between this model and a standard lease model for a comparable small internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle. The initial cost of production for the MicroCab vehicle is very high compared to the ICE model, but even so over a 20 year life-span the cost per mile evens out and becomes competitive. Even at parity costs, the MicroCab concept should prove to be more valuable in the long run as the initial cost of production can be drastically reduced if done at scale, and also because the ICE model needs to be fully replaced in 10 years which comes with other environmental costs currently unaccounted for in the model.

MicroCab will also integrate EcoBulk materials into its assemblies. They will use a compression moulded dashboard fascia switch module which will be using the natural jute LFT pellets being produced by Coventive. They are testing the PLA based materials that could replace commercial ABS parts. Finally they are also looking to integrate the airlaid non-wovens developed by NTT for NVH purposes (Noise/Vibration/Hardness). They have good thermal insulation properties which is useful in electric vehicles which do not generate much spare heat like ICE vehicles.

Construction Industry

Conenor has continued to perfect its agglomeration process to create materials that can be extruded into construction products for the demonstrations. This process also might be able to provide materials that can be compounded into pellets for injection moulding, AIMPLAS will be conducting tests for that. The multi-layer extrusion products will be demonstrated in several places across Europe by the EcoBulk partners. Designs have been completed for a variety of outdoor constructions according to the local needs, and production of the required products has started.

The demonstrators should be assembled and ready for use an testing by the summer of 2020 at the latest. Each demonstration will be tested according to its function as well as its circular potential. This will include performance in durability and resistance, but also human factors like comfort and aesthetic factors. As part of the tracking system for materials for future re-manufcturing, the products will also be foreseen with a QR code that will link to the Decision Support System (DSS) which will be able to specify the materials and circular options available for the product.

To prove the circularity of the new materials, it is necessary to return some of the products back for remanufacturing and further testing. After one year in demonstration, the chosen installations in three different climate conditions (Lipor-PT /  Warwick-UK / KymiRing-FI) will be disassembled
and the components sent back for remanufacturing at Conenor. Received components will be downsized by shredding and then  remanufactured by
extrusion. The new test specimens will be sent to IPCB-CNR for mechanical testing. Based on observed processing performance, the formulation might change with extra added plastics or other additives to try to maintain the same performance of the original materials.

Next Steps

The next steps are somewhat uncertain. The Demonstrators have been delayed due to the current situation, but we fully expect they will all be ready in the second half of this year. Please refer back to the website, or follow the project through our newsletter and social media to keep up to date with the latest developments. If you would like to know more about any of the demonstrations for the project please contact us!

3. Past Events

Ecomondo 2019

ECOBULK was once again active at the Ecomondo 2019 environmental exhibition in Rimini, Italy. The activities included presentations at the ISWA booth, representation of the project at the EASME stand and a discussion panel on plastics management. Dr. Gennaro Gentile, representing EcoBulk partner Istituto dei Polimeri, Compositi e Biomateriali (IPCB), was kind enough to help present the project and addressed the work being done by IPCB to characterise and test the new circular materials being developed in the framework of the project.

At the Session on Supporting Actions to Improve Plastics Management, showcasing some of the front-running EU projects funded by Horizon 2020, Dr Enrico Mangino from CRF (Centro Ricerche Fiat) talked about the challenges of using recycled plastics in the automotive industry. Until now these have not been implemented in any driver visible parts of cars mostly due to aesthetic reasons. EcoBulk is changing that with a dual layer construction in which virgin plastic coats a recycled core. By using only compatible materials, these can still be recycled.

AMI Windturbine Blade Manufacture 2019

Markku Vilkki, from Conenor, presented a paper at the latest edition of the AMI Windturbine Blade Manufacture event in Dusseldorf. His presentation titled “Volume opportunities for remanufacturing GFRP-waste” included the work done in the project to create new materials from turbine blades and then using those to build light weight outdoor constructions such as benches, shelters and even an information cabin for the KymiRing motorsport park in Finland.

Plate 2019

Jelle Joustra from TUDelft was at the Product Lifetimes and the Environment (PLATE) 2019 conference in Berlin. He presented a paper titled “Circular Design of Composite Products – A Preliminary Framework Based on Insights from Literature and Industry” which was a direct result from the EcoBulk design workshops in Koblenz.

4. Future Plans

The future of physical events is uncertain. In fact we have already had to cancel plans and postpone several plans.  The IFAT Exhibition in Munich in May was cancelled, the Recomp conference has been postponed to November 24th and 25th in Warwick, UK. The conference will feature Marku Vilkki from Conenor and Jelle Joustra from TUDelft. Click on the link to find out more.

At Recomp, Markku Wilkki and Jelle Joustra will talk about using windturbine blades in new products.

We are looking now for alternative digital events to showcase the progress of the project and will be getting back to you soon with more information about online events.

In the meantime –

Stay tuned – Stay safe.

The EcoBulk team.

ECOBULK Excels at Ecomondo

ECOBULK was once again active at the Ecomondo 2019 environmental exhibition in Rimini, Italy.

ISWA Booth - Project Presentation

Dr. Gennaro Gentile, representing ECOBULK partner Istituto dei Polimeri, Compositi e Biomateriali (IPCB), was kind enough to help present the project to the visiting crowd. He addressed the work being done by IPCB to characterise and test the new circular materials being developed in the framework of the project. Circular materials must not only fit the properties required by the products, they must also meet circular criteria in terms of reusability and recyclability. In recent years, safety factors have gained increasing interest, with significant studies aimed to underline the presence of harmful substances in waste materials and to prevent their emission during the reprocessing/recycling of specific classes of wastes. A significant barrier to plastic recycling at the moment is the highly heterogenous composition of the recovered materials, particularly in the automotive shredded residue (ASR), which includes several immiscible polymer fractions and can contain a lot of contaminants. Further work is needed to improve separation. The IPCB investigations into materials fractions coming from municipal, furniture, construction, automotive and wind turbine waste has shown that these are, in general, well suited to be used as fillers in plastic matrices, resulting in new materials with appropriate mechanical properties. Care must be taken however, since in some cases toxic and other dangerous substances may be released both during the production and the use of the materials. Further work needs to be done to ensure better separation and avoid contaminants that can hinder recycling options.

EASME Stand - Networking

The Executive Agency for Small and Medium Enterprise (EASME) hosted 40 of their currently funded projects at their stand. This way the projects could network with the visitors to the exhibition as well as promote funding opportunities for future EASME calls for projects. ECOBULK took advantage of this good opportunity to present its work as well as network with other related circular projects which were also present there. Jose Uribe from partner ISWA was at the stand to introduce visitors to the project activities and the upcoming practical demonstrations of circular approaches to bulky composite materials and products, as well as answer any specific questions.

EASME Workshop on Plastics

Discussion panels organised by EASME gave the invited projects the chance to present themselves and discuss some of their challenges and lessons learnt. ECOBULK was present at the special Session on Supporting Actions to Improve Plastics Management.  The session showcased some of the front-running EU projects funded by Horizon 2020, among other funding schemes, which developed innovative solutions for plastics waste prevention, product design and recycling. ECOBULK was represented by Dr. Enrico Mangino, from CRF (Centro Ricerche Fiat).

Enrico talked about the challenges of using recycled plastics in the automotive industry, which until now has not implemented the use of recycled materials in any driver visible parts of cars due to aesthetic reasons. ECOBULK is changing that by introducing a dual layer construction in which virgin plastic coats a recycled core in central console parts. This way the visible quality is not compromised, and by ensuring compatibility between the virgin and recycled materials, it can also still be recycled in the same way. But at the moment, the flow of recycled materials is somewhat haphazard, depending on the availability of different types of waste. As Markku Vilkki, CEO of Conenor once put it, “… today my storage is full wind turbine blades, but next week it will be plastic pipes!”.

Dr Mangino also pointed out issues with materials that come from products with longer lifespans. In the automotive industry, using plastics recovered from End-of-Life (EOL) vehicles means using plastic compounds that were produced 10 to 20 years ago. In this case, the challenge is to prove that we can work with a wide and almost unpredictable array of sources and still provide a reliable output material.  Furthermore, regularly the market and regulations are updated to reflect the recognition of additives and substances which are no longer considered safe. These considerations are clearly reflected in the earlier mentioned work by Dr. Gentile and IPCB, which is a crucial contribution to ECOBULK and all other circular economy plastics initiatives.

Making Wind Turbine Blades Circular – the ECOBULK way.

Finnish Teknikka & Talous calls attention to the growing problem of wind turbine blades, and Conenor, ECOBULK partner, may have the solution.

Markku Vilkki, CEO of Conenor, has been working with ECOBULK on new circular approaches for composite materials. Composite materials, such as used in wind turbine blades, are considered difficult, if not impossible, to recycle. Most of these end up in landfills or being incinerated. Considering the annual production of composite materials is expected to reach $108 billion  by 2023 (BusinessWire), the expected destruction of value is enormous.

ISWA President Antonis Mavropoulos already called attention to the problem of wind turbine blades on his blog back in 2017. He stated that around 43 million tons of blade waste is expected to be generated worldwide by 2050, out of which China will have to manage 40 percent, Europe 25, the United States 16 and the rest of the world 19 percent.

Luckily, solutions are already being found. In his labs at Conenor, Vilkki is already producing extrusion profiles containing 35% FRP waste from wind turbines in a thermoplastic matrix. They have good physical properties, and best of all, they are fully circular. These will be demonstrated in the ECOBULK project which is now entering its demonstration phase. They will be used for lightweight and outdoor constructions, some of which will be placed at the new Kymiring motorsport park that is being built in Finland, and will host the Finnish MotoGP event in July 2020.

Vilkki will be presenting a paper at the Wind Turbine Blade Manufacture event in Dusseldorf between the 9th and 11th of December 2019: “Volume opportunities for re-manufacturing GFRP-waste; test results & applications”. This is a follow up from the previous year’s presentation – “Closing the loop for wind turbine blades” which can be downloaded here.

ECOBULK is a 4-year project, funded by the EU H2020 program. It combines 32 partners in a consortium of experts from product design, materials, production, logistics, business models, recycling and waste management. Together they have developed new circular design frameworks, materials and products that will be demonstrated across Europe in 2020. These products will be supported with new circular business models, reverse and circular logistics as well as a stakeholder platform that will be able supply advice on end of life options for composite products or materials.

Sign up for our newsletter, and follow us on social media to keep up to date with our exciting circular composites demonstrations.

Newsletter 4

New partners Coventry and Warwick University hosted the month 24 meeting of the ECOBULK partners at Scarman Conference Center in Coventry, UK. The main focus was on finalising the plans and ambitions for the real-life demonstrations that are due to begin. 

ECOBULK M24 Progress Bar

Project Update

The baseline value chain for each sector was established and then used analyse the implications of circularity.

The main thrust of the last few months has been the definition of the demonstrations as complete circular chains. Oakdene Hollins and TUDelft have been helping our demo partners find ways of implementing circular business and design solutions that integrate their whole value chain. 

Read more

Coventry, Cars and Circular Economy

The innovative heart of the British auto industry is still beating. ECOBULK partners recently gathered in Coventry, home of hydrogen cars pioneer MicroCab and our two new demonstration partners Warwick and Coventry University, to talk about the challenges of increasing circularity in the auto industry.

Read  more

Partners enjoyed a tour of the MicroCab facilities in Coventry.

Seriously Circular Gaming

Partner FCBA has been thinking about how to help companies become more circular. Sometimes companies will be inspired by new ideas and possibilities, other times they need to consider technical challenges, and always they will have to take into account the business models will have to be adapted to a circular value chain. At the  Ecobulk meeting in Coventry, FCBA gave the partners a chance to play test their new educational game.

Read more


Coming Up:

  1. PLATE 2019 – TUDelft will present their design strategy framework as well as results from workshops in ECOBULK at the Product Lifetimes and the Environment conference in Berlin;
  2. AMI WTBM 2019 – Conenor will be presenting its work on re-manufacturing GFRP waste at the annual wind industry in Germany this December;
  3. ISWA World Congress 2019 – ECOBULK project presentation and promotion in October 2019 in Bilbao;
  4. POLYCHAR – partner IPCB-CNR will organise the 27th Polychar conference in October 2019 in Naples;

Past Events:

  1. EcoComp 2019 – partner Coventive co-organised the conference and presented their work on circular composite materials at the event
    TUDelft was also there to talk about design for circularity;
  2. ITMA 2019 – partner Next Technology represented their work and contributions to Ecobulk at this latest edition of the Textile & Garment Technology Exhibition in Barcelona;

Seriously Circular Gaming

Ecobulk partner FCBA has been thinking about how they can help companies become more circular. Sometimes companies need to be inspired by new ideas and possibilities, other times they need to consider technical challenges, and always they will have to take into account the business models that might have to be adapted to fit a circular value chain. At the latest Ecobulk meeting in Coventry, FCBA gave the partners a chance to play test their new educational game.

Both during the project and in the of work promoting circularity and sustainable models, it has been found that people sometimes learn better by doing, by trying something out. To help businesses think in a more circular way, they need to be challenged to start with an idea and then see how they can go forward with it. By creating a game around circular concepts, it is possible to challenge people to think about new ways of doing things in a safe format. The safety is not only due to the simulated nature of the exercise, but also the game aspect that removes the participants from their normal reality and allows them to be more creative and think in different ways than they normally would allow themselves to. FCBA likes to quote Einstein for this:

“Creativity is intelligence having fun!”

The game challenges participants to collect cards that represent concepts and materials that combined could form a credible circular product concept. Each player gets project and a challenge that defines some of the circular economy pillars that the project should fulfil. Players pick random concept cards from the table, each of them a real-life example of the circular pillars applied to a product or service. Players use the concepts as inspiration for proposing their own complete product that fulfils each pillar. After pitching their idea to their fellow players, the others decide how much money they should invest in the idea. Of course, in the end, the most investable idea wins.

The game works on several levels to increase the knowledge and circular thinking of the participants. At the more abstract level, some of the concept cards contain a pillar description instead of a concept, which gives players pause to reflect on what the pillars of the circular economy are.

  1. Sustainable Supply – material and business choices that consider environmental factors
  2. Eco-Design – taking into account all life cycle stages, including EOL, at design phase
  3. Industrial and territorial ecology – opportunistic exchange of energy flows and materials
  4. Functional economy – supply the function or use of a product
  5. Responsible consumption – mutualization or sharing of products and services
  6. Reusing – extending the product or part life cycle
  7. Recycling – turning waste into resources

At a more concrete level, each of the concepts presented during the game gives a tangible example of the fulfilment of the pillars. Players may draw on this inspiration by either applying similar solutions to their own similar challenges or considering when the particular approach might be appropriate depending on the product or context. Particularly surprising or inspiring concepts tend to become a short discussion item at the table, which engenders an interesting exchange of knowledge and experiences.

At a systems level, the players are forced to try to think of coherent product concepts that incorporate the different partial solutions that they have so far encountered. This is important, particularly from the Ecobulk perspective, the main goal of which is exactly to push the different enabling solutions into a demonstrable, working circular chain in real-life.

Finally, at an entertainment level, all those who participated in the game agreed it was seriously enjoyable to play!

Coventry, Cars, and Circular Economy

The innovative heart of the British auto industry is still beating.

Coventry is the traditional home of the British automotive industry. The industry reached its peak around 1950, when the UK was the second-largest car manufacturing country of the world. At this time there were 12 manufacturers in Coventry including then household names such as Rover, Jaguar and BMC (makers of the Mini) and it became known as the British Detroit. The size of the industry may have declined, but the knowledge has remained.  Coventry is emerging as a research centre with the opening of the National Automotive Innovation Centre as well as current expansion plans from JLR. In the midst of all this, ECOBULK gathered to finalise their plans to demonstrate the circular composite materials and prototypes that have been developed in the last 2 years.

MicroCab is one of the companies in Coventry working to rethink the car as a sustainable mode of transport for the future. Their vision is based on hydrogen fuel cells replacing the internal combustion engine and tailoring the design of the car to be highly efficient in its expected use. Within the ECOBULK consortium, they are pioneering a leasing business model that would allow them to maintain ownership of the car and sell mobility as a service. Following the circular philosophy, they are creating a modular design that fits with a regular maintenance schedule that exchanges parts, not just for maintenance, but also as an opportunity to modernise and upgrade the user experience over the multi-decade life of the car.

Maintaining ownership of the vehicle, MicroCab envisions various new opportunities that would allow them to increase the lifespan of the cars as well as the possibilities of re-using parts. The cars they design are highly efficient for their targeted use, but as we all well know, people’s use and expectations of a product are constantly changing. As the usage mode of the car changes, MicroCab will be able to switch out parts and make the car adaptable to the changing market needs without having to junk an old car or produce a whole new one.

Large fragment ELV shredder sample
Small fragment ELV shredder fraction

Recycling is a growing issue with end of life vehicles, particularly in light of the increasing demands from governments to achieve higher re-use and recycling rates. At the end of life, a car is first stripped of any valuable major parts that are easily taken out. But after that, it is shredder time. The shredded particles are then separated out to Ferrous and Non-Ferrous metals, with a large mix of materials left over. The left-over materials contain a lot of plastics, but separating plastics, and in particular different types of plastics, can be quite difficult. However, with recycling targets now set at a minimum of 85%, this can only be possible by recycling these after-shredding plastics. TOMRA has been working together with Bellver and AIMPLAS to demonstrate the possibilities to to sort out these plastics in a way that is useful to recycling.

Interior fascia parts to be made with mixed plastic composites salvaged from ELV plastic waste.

Meanwhile partners FIAT and MAIER are getting to grips with the challenge of incorporating the salvaged plastics into internal car parts using composite materials. One of the core circular principles is to simplify and separate both parts and materials at the design stage to enable better re-use and re-cycling options at the end of life stage. However, vehicles reaching the end-of-life stage tend to be between 10 and 20 years old, which means that changes in design would only start affecting the availability of recycled materials at least 10 years from the start of production. To maintain the core practical demonstration purpose of the project, they will have to prove how they can take a large mix of plastic waste from 10 year old cars, and integrate it as efficiently as possible into the production of new parts. While designing to use mixed plastics might sound decidedly un-circular, it is perhaps the only practical demonstration that takes into account the fact that the automotive industry will always have to deal with design and material choices from at least a decade ago.

To learn more about ECOBULK and the planned demonstrations, sign up for our newsletter here belwo, and follow us on social media!

Ecobulk 2 Years on – M24 Meeting

Two years of Ecobulk where celebrated last week in Coventry, historical home of the British automotive industry. The meeting was hosted by the new project partners Warwick and Coventry University at the Scarman Conference Centre. Both partners will be contributing through their demonstrations of the new prototypes in furniture and construction sectors, as well input on the design of circular value chains.

The main aim of the meeting was to put all the pieces of the puzzle together for each of the planned demonstrations. Several exciting new concepts have been developed by the partners in the past 2 years which we expect will enable new highly circular materials and products to be produced. But the Ecobulk project is a large-scale demonstration initiative, and so an integral part of the challenge is to fit all the newly developed partial solutions into a coherent, circular chain that is feasible – not only technically, or theoretically, but also economically, and practically.

Furniture Sector

Moretti will be demonstrating the use of its modular furniture design concept for students and universities. They will be exploring business models that include the option to lease the furniture to their users, and where possible, recondition and re-use the returned furniture. With research from KEAS and Akzo-Nobel, the percentage of re-cycled particle board used in production can be significantly increased to accommodate the return of used furniture into the production lines.

Construction Sector

Conenor has developed some interesting new WPC materials using ‘waste’ materials from diverse sources such as wind turbine blades, discarded furniture, and plastic pipes. These will be used in several demonstration sites to create appealing light outdoor constructions and furniture. The materials are 100% recyclable into the same material at the end of life. With careful design and selection of fasteners, the individual components will be easily taken apart and replaced when necessary.

Automotive Sector

In the automotive sector, MicroCab is designing a modular platform for their hydrogen powered cars that allows the controlled and timely replacement of auto parts that not only maintain the quality but also modernise the user experience during the lifetime of the vehicle. Meanwhile Maier and Fiat are working on using materials and processes for their interior car parts that can re-use the plastics being retrieved by TOMRA, AIMPLAS and Bellver from shredded vehicles.

More to Come Soon ....

With the prototypes and demonstrations almost ready, we will be updating soon the information about where you can see the Ecobulk products being tested all across Europe.

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Newsletter 3 – Ecobulk: Focus on Materials and Business

ECOBULK project meeting at ITENE

Partner ITENE hosted the month 18 meeting of the ECOBULK partners at their offices in Valencia, Spain. The partners participated in workshops and  shared their progress. The meeting focused on refining the prototype designs, discussing material developments, and preparing for the demonstrations due to be deployed by the end of 2019.

ECOBULK Progress Bar M18
ECOBULK Progress Bar M18

Project Update

ECOBULK Fastener Finder
The new online Fastener Finder database


The project is wrapping up the Circular Design Framework and a number of related deliverables, including the Fastener Finder by TUDelft and the Materials Explorer by Granta Design. Both these systems will be helping designers and manufacturers to make more circular choices for their products and materials. 

Read more about the project updates.


Business Model Workshops

Partners took part in a new round of workshops to further refine the prototype concepts and designs, this time focusing on the business model innovation. Workshop leaders Oakdene Hollins and TUDelft created an iterative role play process to elicit expectations and requirements from the stakeholders in the circular chain.

Read more about the workshops.

ECOBULK - Business Models Workshop - Valencia
Stakeholder Role Play at the Workshops

Materials Development

Coventive's pultrusion based LFT pellets

Partners shared their progress and samples, now being tested and refined, to be used in the prototypes being developed by the product partners. Among these, Coventive talked about their efforts to develop first natural fibre, and now carbon fibre, LFT pellets. Their research progression, leading up to the practical implementation of their knowledge and processes for ECOBULK, was shared recently at the Long-Fibre Thermoplastics 2018 conference in Berlin. The work on recycled carbon fibre drew considerable interest from members of the automotive industry in the audience.
Read more about Coventive’s LFTs.

ECOBULK - The Movie

To mark the M18 transition into the prototype and demonstration phase, an ECOBULK promotional video was produced that explains the project and planned demonstrations. The video premiered at the project’s presentation at Ecomondo in November, and is now available online. 


ECOBULK has been getting around the last few months:

  • TEDx, SWARM – MICROCAB discussed and promoted the ECOBULK project during the SWARM conference and their TEDx talk in October 2018.
  • Ecomondo, November 2018 – The project, the new video and the furniture prototypes were presented at the ISWA stand, with the help of partners Exergy, KEAS, Moretti Compact and NTT (read more…)
  • Modern Composite Solutions – Conenor visited the event in Finland in November 2018 and promoted the project (read more…).
  • Ecofira (Valencia) and CONAMA (Madrid) – AIMPLAS promoted the project at these events.

Coming up:

  • AMI Wind Turbine Manufacture – Conenor and TUDelft are presenting their research into solutions for recycling turbine blades in December 2018 in Dusseldorf.
  • EcoComp – Coventive will be co-hosting this event and promoting their work on ECOBULK in June 2019 in Coventry.
  • ISWA World Congress 2019 – ECOBULK presentation and promotion in October 2019 in Bilbao.
  • POLYCHAR – IPCB-CNR will organise the 27th Polychar conference in October 2019 in Naples

Meet us at one of the upcoming events!

Business models revisited

Creating circular value chains is not always straightforward, as choices for each stage have ripple effects on the entire chain. These effects can have secondary effects, and so the ripples go on. The only way to resolve this is to implement an iterative process.

This iterative process has been integrated into the design process for the ECOBULK prototypes and demonstrators. Initial prototype designs were created based on the Circular Design Framework and workshops from the previous consortium meeting. The next iteration in the process were the business model workshops at the M18 meeting in Valencia.

Design Workshops - Optimizing Business Models

EOCBULK Business Model Ambition versus Circularity

To start off with, the partners were asked to judge a number of different circular products and concepts that have been introduced into the market recently. Each of these was to be placed on two scales – one reflecting the level of circularity involved in the idea and another one assessing the level of ambition in the business model being used. The discussions served to calibrate the participants understanding and expectation of circular solutions and business models. After discussing several of these examples, the participants were then asked to consider the prototypes and demonstrations planned for ECOBULK.

Table setup Workshop

For this exercise the participants were divided into groups, each representing the different stakeholders in the system. There was a Materials table, a Manufacturing table, a Users table and an End-of-Life table. Each table was confronted with questions about what practical solutions or considerations would be important to increase the circularity of products in a particular sector.

 A list of requirements and questions would then emerge to could be directed to any of the other stakeholder tables. This list could then be passed around to the relevant stakeholders to answer and/or possibly provide further requests and questions to other tables. After several rounds, an overall shared picture could crystallize among the groups about the remaining obstacles and challenges that could be solved to improve the current circular concepts.

During the Construction workshop, some of the considerations revolved around the practicalities of separating waste streams for recovery, the importance of end-user behaviour in ensuring the availability of waste streams, and strategies for product life/cycle extension. For example, when trying to recover materials it is essential to have reliable data on what the material contents are, and it would be most helpful if materials were mixed as little possible, or at least were easily separable. To improve user attitudes and behaviour towards returning materials back into the cycle, communication was considered key – concepts like tagging materials with informative and inspiring messages like “in my next life I would like to be a spoon” to encourage people to be aware and engage with the life-cycles of their products. To solve for the collection logistical problem, the end-user engagement and strategies for life extension, a peer 2 peer network would allow end-users to match supply and demand in an organic way.

Slotted construction for sheds
Slotted construction makes components easily separated for reuse and recovery.

The Automotive workshop produced some interesting discussions about the use preferences of car drivers which may be a barrier to shared car models, a more modular approach to vehicle design, and the manufacturers role in creating a wider acceptance of recycled materials used in aesthetic components. The idea of car sharing is quite popular, but still lacks wider appeal possibly because there is no possible customisation of the shared vehicle. This can be difficult to accept for many users who have as much an emotional relationship with their cars as they do a functional one. More modularity in design and equipment could help to increase the life span and maintain value by exchanging outdated parts with modern ones. Acceptance of recycled materials in aesthetic components could also be improved by manufacturers adapting their marketing to promote them – users have already accepted other forms of upcycled and recycled products as fashionable.

Microcab modular central console
Central console can be easily replaced and refurbished, extending the useful life of the car.

The partners will continue to develop and refine their prototypes as ECOBULK starts preparing for the demonstration phase of the project. Follow the progress by  signing up for our newsletter, and join us on our social media channels.

Coventive’s Quest for the Circular, Long Fibre Pellet

In the automotive industry lower weight means lower fuel consumption. One way to achieve lower weight is to replace heavy metal parts with lighter plastic ones, however, the replacement parts need to be made of materials offering similar structural performance. This is where composites come in. 

In particular, long fibre reinforced thermoplastic composites (LFTs) offer increased strength and toughness; and could be considered the best choice for structural performance for injection mouldable thermoplastic parts. These qualities basically translate to lower weight for parts at equal structural performance, a valuable economic and environmental advantage. 

Coventive have been working to develop first natural fibre, and now carbon fibre, LFT pellets. Their research progression, leading up to the practical implementation of their knowledge and processes for ECOBULK, was shared recently at the Long-Fibre Thermoplastics 2018 conference in Berlin. The work on recycled carbon fibre drew considerable interest from members of the automotive industry in the audience.

Coventive's LFT Journey

Coventive’s adventure into LFT’s started already with previous projects. Their original foray into this subject was more a feasibility study than anything else. With the project ECO-LFT, Coventive demonstrated their first ability to create a long fibre pellet that could be used for injection moulding. In a follow up project to develop a process for self-reinforced composites, PELTEC, they also by chance started experimenting with natural fibres. The experiment was eventually successful in delivering a pultrusion based process to create LFT pellets for which the material and moulded samples achieved all the technical specifications required by the manufacturers, except for one – price. The original recipe used continuous yarn fibre – which has a high added value and had a significant effect on the final pellet price. Coventive are working hard to replace the high value yarn with discontinuous, cheaper sources that will still maintain the same qualities.  This project will conclude in the spring of next year, by which time they expect to be able to supply production samples to those interested.

For ECOBULK, targeting the automotive industry, the collaboration with Coventive was obvious. Cooperations like this clearly highlight the value of demonstration projects that can bring separate research developments together and integrate them into a practical, circular market application. The knowledge and experience gained by Coventive in the pultrusion process for LFT’s can now be implemented to specifically develop alternative carbon fibre LFT pellets using recycled and waste materials. This would achieve the required structural properties for diverse uses in car parts, at a competitive price, lower weight, and with full circular credentials.

Their initial studies have shown that it should be possible to create LFT pellets using selvedge waste (virgin carbon fibre trimmings – production waste) and pyrolised carbon fibres from waste composite materials (recycled).  Using these sources, the fibres maintain slightly lower but similar properties, but offer a 35% – 50% reduction in price. 

The supply of selvedge (virgin carbon fibre trimmings) for this purpose might pose problems at scale, although at the moment this is considered production waste and has no commercial value. The pyrolised carbon fibres however, can probably count on a readily available supply from waste composites recyclers once the value of them has been established.

Follow the developments of Coventive and other ECOBULK material partners by signing up to our newsletter, and joining our social media channels.