Plastics and composite materials

Plastics and composite materials
© Shutterstock/Eugene Sergeev
Plastics are everywhere to be found, and new materials are being used in more and more branches of industry. However, their complex production processes and the issue of disposal stand in contrast to the savings they bring about.

Plastics and composite materials are to be found in practically all areas of everyday life – in car dashboards, as insulants in buildings, or as lightweight components in aircraft for example. Composites are gaining significance through the increased use of lightweight design processes in a wide range of applications. The integration of new materials, extended functions, and intelligent systems into future products opens up new opportunities for various branches of industry such as building construction, mechanical engineering, road transport, and aviation, along with new possibilities for the intelligent fusion of functionality, weight reduction, and aesthetics; this all has the potential to conserve materials and energy resources and to protect the environment. Functionalized lightweight applications such as these are usually only feasible with the use of new high-tech materials and critical substances. Savings in the usage phase (lower energy requirements, longer lifespan) are frequently offset by more intricate production processes (more expensive, more detrimental to the environment) and in many cases by still unresolved disposal issues (incineration instead of high-quality recycling). The ecological and economic suitability of these materials can only be assessed under consideration of the interplay of all these factors in the overall system, since their high complexity precludes overgeneralization. Analysis of the entire life cycle is crucial in order to make statements about overall ecological impact and costs.

The Life Cycle Engineering Department has at its disposal a unique fund of knowledge and many years of experience in the field of the life cycle-related ecological assessment of conventional and high-performance materials, application scenarios, and recycling processes of today and tomorrow. This is a substantial constituent of strategically oriented, ecologically and economically appropriate research and development work.