What is meant by hair recycling

Recycling of fiberglass plasticsWind turbines become road surfaces

A large, high factory hall in an industrial area in the north of Bremen. The building is made of corrugated iron and concrete, spotlights bathe the room in a bright, bluish light. It smells of chemicals, the air is humid. Two mighty machines rattle loudly, reaching almost to the ceiling. They shred glass fiber plastic, GRP for short. It's difficult to recycle, says Jörg Lempke. He is sales manager at Neocomp, the hall and machines belong to:

"The industry has developed a material here that has several advantages. It is very strong, it is tough, it is permanently stable. It is not for nothing that the wind power industry uses it to make rotor blades that are supposed to rotate under dynamic conditions for 20 years - in winter at sub-zero temperatures, in summer with high heat with UV radiation, hailstorms and all these things. Or a pipe manufacturer gives an 80 year guarantee on this material if it is buried in the ground as a water pipe. "

Waste experts founded the Neocomp joint project

That is why for a long time nobody had thought about how fiberglass plastic could be disposed of. However, more and more wind farm operators are currently starting to replace their systems, which are often 20 years old, with more modern ones. The Lüneburg waste disposal company Neowa saw it as a niche in the market. Together with their Bremen colleagues from the Nehlsen company, the waste experts founded the Neocomp joint project. Before operations could start in 2016, however, suitable systems first had to be found, says Jörg Lempke:

"Then we got to what is known as the cross-flow chipper. This is an impact process, an anchor chain, as is also known from large ocean-going vessels, rotates at a speed of 800 or 1,000 revolutions per minute. And whenever this chain hits the Material GRP hits, it is shattered with great force and crashed.

Thanks to automated machines, GRP recycling is not very labor-intensive. Neocomp therefore only employs five people in total. During a tour of the workshop, operations manager Stefan Groß explains the production process. It starts at the rear end of the hall - with two large piles: one with only GRP waste, one with so-called rejects. These are waste materials from waste paper recovery:

"When they process the waste paper, everything is still there - if it's the cellophane wrapper or the adhesive label from the address or the paper clips that are still in there".

In a third step, a large excavator mixes fiberglass and rejects. This raw material is then transported into the funnel of a pre-shredder, also with the excavator. The machine looks like an oversized grain mill. Stefan Groß describes:

"The very coarse material is slightly pre-shredded and falls over the back. And the colleague in the wheel loader takes the pre-shredded material and gives it to the feed belt."

"A big truck comes four times a day"

The pre-shredded material finally reaches the cross-flow shredder, where it is finally ground in the container-like housing. The end result is a bit reminiscent of bark mulch - but gray-white with bright spots of color. Neocomp produces around 120 tons of it per day. And only in the state that has now been reached can fiberglass plastic be burned. Stefan Groß explains why this is important:

"A large truck comes four times a day, picks up the material and drives it to the cement industry."

The cement works, in turn, use the GRP-reject mixture as a secondary fuel. In other words, as a substitute fuel that is obtained from waste. Stefan Gross:

"The good thing is that you not only have energy here to burn. You also have the waste from the GRP, you have glass, sand and a bit of resin as back material. And that is exactly the material that the cement industry also uses as a raw material ".

Neocomp was able to generate sales of 3.5 million euros in this way in 2016. The company's next goal is to expand its customer base beyond the cement industry, emphasizes Jörg Lempke. Fiberglass waste can also be used for other purposes:

"There are companies in Belgium, for example, that use them to make level crossings, which then includes the cavernous bodies in the tracks. There are also companies that want these fiberglass scraps to make building panels from which living containers for the UN are to be made . And there are attempts to work this material into concrete to replace steel reinforcement ".

Cement works initially the largest buyer of GRP waste

But there is still a long way to go, which also means stricter material control, admits Lempke:

"Actually, we never know what's in the container that is being delivered to us here. Or we know exactly that there are major differences. Not all glass fibers are the same, and there are other things in there that give this material its quality form".

That is why the cement works will remain the largest buyer of GRP waste for the time being. Because material differences do not play a role in cement production. What used to be a wind turbine can then be used again as a road surface or in house construction.