The use of composite materials in the aeronautic industry has been increasing since (in the 70s in the North American market and the 80s in Europe) they started to be used in commercial aviation as a substitute for classic materials such as metals. The reason for their use was largely because of their capacity to reinforce in preferential directions, their high rigidity, specific resistance and their enhanced fatigue and corrosion behaviour. Currently, the main reasons to justify their use in this sector are to do with reducing the structural weight of the aircraft, the reduction in the number of parts needed in its assembly (fewer zones for riveting) and, finally, the reduction of maintenance operations over the useful lifespan of the craft.
But there are certain limitations in their use such as the high costs of the raw material and of labour for the manufacture of large parts, the need for long periods of development, together with the complexity associated with its design, the difficulties in obtaining certifications for the necessary materials. On balance, between the advantages and disadvantages that these materials have, their current application in a commercial aircraft involves 20% of its weight. However, future tendencies point to an important increase in this percentage, enabling reductions in both weight and cost of aircraft, enhanced safety conditions and reduced environmental impact.
Considering that the average life of a plane is about 20 years and that parts made from composite materials are not repaired but replaced, the aeronautics sector is finding a huge quantity of waste material on its hands a solution for which has to be found. This is because the only currently available way to treat this type of materials is by dumping them in authorised dumps where they are still accepted. In fact, in the aeronautics market, future tendencies already point to the substitution of thermostable materials by other kinds of materials such as thermoplastics or GLARE®-type plastic/metal hybrid materials, although the reasons that justify this change are based more on economic (automation of the process, lowering labour costs, mass production, obtaining materials with enhanced mechanical properties, etc.) than on criteria of recyclability.
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