Many of the materials used in aircraft components, particularly the fuselage, are made from sophisticated alloys requiring a costly manufacturing process, often using more difficult-to-come-by elements. This means that recycling these materials becomes all the more important and the actual recycling process can have a significant impact in overall sustainability.
Though fuselages are currently recycled (it’s actually estimated that up to 75% of an aircraft can be recycled), the way in which this is carried out is not as efficient as it could be.
The traditional method is to simply recycle the materials in a collective manner, rather than separating out the various materials and alloys contained within the panel. This is far less efficient than differentiating the materials, as collectively recycling the old test panels will invariably result in them being processed as lower value metal.
Now, a new initiative taking place under the Clean Sky programme called the European SENTRY project is working to change this process, allowing the materials to be re-used for their original purpose: manufacturing aircraft. The SENTRY process allows each of the constituent materials and alloys to be recycled separately, then used to make new fuselage panels. The project is being run by the Ik4 R&D Alliance and has received a substantial portion of its funding from the EU. This advanced recycling process is sure to improve the overall sustainability of the aviation industry and cut out the wasteful loss of these valuable materials from aviation.