Discovering and using aircraft cemeteries as source for raw materials

Worldwide about 25.000 commercial aircraft are in operation transporting more than 2 billion passengers annually. Until the year 2050, there will be a noticeable increase in aviation causing a doubling of aircrafts. However, what happens when airplanes have fulfilled their tasks? How can valuable parts or raw materials contained in these machines be recovered? In December 2013, experts will meet for the first time to discuss recycling possibilities of airplanes. The international symposium, organized by Pforzheim University, will take place on December 12th and 13th, 2013 at Stuttgart Airport.

Airplanes are a treasure trove of valuable materials that in future will increasingly become scarce and thus more expensive. In a commercial aircraft there are about 70 tons of aluminum alloys, magnesium, titanium and high-quality steel grades in the aeroplane structure. In the turbines ceramic-coated high-performance materials like nickel or titanium can be found. Even the landing gear contains a considerable amount of titanium. Apart from that plastics and high-performance composites on the basis of carbon fibres are used to an increasing extent.

Airplanes have an operation period of about 30 years meaning that in the near future about 400 planes will be taken out of service. With regard to the next 15 years almost 500.000 tons of scrapped airplane material has to be disposed of. The decommissioning of military aircrafts is not even taken into account. Thus aircraft recycling appears to be a business option.

But so far, high-quality recycling of aircraft is a field that is maturing slowly. Typically airplanes have been "parked" in desert areas like Arizona/USA or resold until flights had to be stopped for safety reasons. Since 2005 first approaches for disassembly and reutilization of largescale machines have been developed, and components and parts reuse is an already established business. However, binding end-of-life standards, common techniques and appropriate procedures for the worldwide operating recycling industry will become increasingly important.

For this very reason Pforzheim University organizes a symposium, the first of its kind in Europe focusing on technical and academic topics for aircraft manufacturers, suppliers and recycling companies with the aim to promote development of partnerships, procedures and services for the recycling of airplanes. Representatives of Airbus, Boeing and Dassault Aviation will take part as well as recycling companies and research partners. Co-organizer of the symposium is the Fraunhofer Organization.

The symposium will take place December 12th and 13th, 2013 at Stuttgart Airport. Around 100 international participants will be expected. Professor Dr. Jörg Woidasky acts as chairperson of the first Aircraft Recycling Symposium. He has been teaching Sustainable Product Development at Pforzheim University since 2012. Before coming to Pforzheim, Professor Woidasky as a Fraunhofer Organization scientist managed the European research and development project "Clean Sky -Eco Design" with more than twenty partners from the industry and a R & D budget of more than 80 million euro. In the framework of this project eco-friendly production and recycling procedures were developed for the aircraft industry.

Source: Fraunhofer Institut für Chemische Technologie ICT