Composite materials for a circular model: Leonardo's research at the European SDG Summit 2022

13 October 2022

The summit, organised by CSR Europe, took place online from 10 to 12 October and was attended by over 100 speakers representing EU institutions, industrial businesses and organisations, and civil society. This year's debate focused on accelerating the path to climate neutrality and adopting an inclusive approach to the green and digital transition.

The 'Creating a sustainable and competitive economy for the European composites industry' Blueprint has been presented at the European SDG Summit. The paper, prepared by Leonardo and CSR Europe with the support of Bax & Company, takes an in-depth look at the potential of composites from the circularity perspective in the various relevant sectors, including aerospace. It also takes stock of the prospects for developing and using these materials for the green industrial transition. The Blueprint is the result of the work of the New Materials & Circular Economy Accelerator, led by CSR Europe with the support of Leonardo, which has seen the involvement of a wide range of stakeholders including companies, European associations and universities.

Composite materials: a look at the figures 
In this perspective it is worth noting that, in the aerospace sector alone, composite materials used for aircraft in the place of traditional aluminium alloys have led to a 20% reduction in aircraft weight. A reduction of around 580 kilograms per aircraft translates into a 10-15% fuel saving, leading to a positive environmental impact through an approximately 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. These figures are part of a composite materials market with a global value in 2018 of €13.45 billion, forecast to rise to €27.3 billion by 2026. Indeed, the high performance of composite materials has accelerated their use and, consequently, the production of waste. It is estimated that, by 2025, some 680,000 tonnes of composite waste will be produced in Europe, with a recovery plant capacity of 100,000 tonnes. This offers an opportunity to implement circular economy models.

Shared objectives for sustainable growth
The participation at the Summit of Leonardo CEO Alessandro Profumo, also in his capacity as President of ASD (European Aerospace, Defence and Security Association), and Renata Mele, Senior Vice President Sustainability, demonstrated the central role of sustainability and circularity in the company’s strategy. The Summit focused on accelerating the green transition, a key issue for the industry's international positioning and competitiveness. The issue is even more significant today given the EU's need for greater independence in the supply of resources. These objectives align with the European Commission's vision and the European Green Deal’s sustainable growth strategy, which aims to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. Leonardo and the entire sector are playing a key role in achieving these goals. It is through fostering innovative production processes, developing technologies with a lower environmental impact, and adopting a circular economy approach across the entire value chain - also through systemic action by stakeholders - that the necessary change can be brought about.

The Blueprint: from materials analysis to a snapshot of 'circularity' today, to future challenges
In this context, the composite materials Blueprint offers a practical contribution in implementing a strategy of circularity and in promoting the efficient use of resources. The document provides a detailed analysis of composites - types, production technologies and areas of application - describing the status of these materials in terms of circularity and the opportunities and challenges presented in overcoming the obstacles of the related sustainability model. This first step aims to involve stakeholders from relevant sectors such as aerospace, defence, chemicals, energy and maritime in the development of an innovative, competitive and sustainable value chain in Europe.

Go to the BlueprintCreating a sustainable and competitive economy for the European composites industryCSR+Europe_Composite+Materials+FINAL.pdf (