Allocation in recycling of composites ‐ the case of life cycle assessment of products from carbon fiber composites
Artikel i vetenskaplig tidskrift, 2022

Purpose Composites consist of at least two merged materials. Separation of these components for recycling is typically an energy-intensive process with potentially significant impacts on the components’ quality. The purpose of this article is to suggest how allocation for recycling of products manufactured from composites can be handled in life cycle assessment to accommodate for the recycling process and associated quality degradations of the different composite components, as well as to describe the challenges involved.

Method Three prominent recycling allocation approaches were selected from the literature: the cut-off approach, the end- of-life recycling approach with quality-adjusted substitution, and the circular footprint formula. The allocation approaches were adapted to accommodate for allocation of impacts by conceptualizing the composite material recycling as a separation process with subsequent recycling of the recovered components, allowing for separate modeling of the quality changes in each individual component. The adapted allocation approaches were then applied in a case study assessing the cradle- to-grave climate impact and energy use of a fictitious product made from a composite material that in the end of life is recycled through grinding, pyrolysis, or by means of supercritical water treatment. Finally, the experiences and results from applying the allocation approaches were analyzed with regard to what incentives they provide and what challenges they come with.

Results and discussion Using the approach of modeling the composite as at least two separate materials rather than one helped to clarify the incentives provided by each allocation approach. When the product is produced using primary materials, the cut-off approach gives no incentive to recycle, and the end-of-life recycling approach and the circular footprint formula give incentives to recycle and recover materials of high quality. Each of the allocation approaches come with inherent challenges, especially when knowledge is limited regarding future systems as in prospective studies. This challenge is most evident for the circular footprint formula, for example, with regard to the supply and demand balance.

Conclusions We recommend modeling the composite materials in products as separate, individual materials. This proved useful for capturing changes in quality, trade-offs between recovering high quality materials and the environmental impact of the recycling system, and the incentives the different approaches provide. The cut-off and end-of-life approaches can both be used in prospective studies, whereas the circular footprint formula should be avoided as a third approach when no market for secondary material is established.

energy use

carbon fibers

Life Cycle Assessment




climate impact


Frida Hermansson

Chalmers, Teknikens ekonomi och organisation, Environmental Systems Analysis

Tomas Ekvall

Chalmers, Teknikens ekonomi och organisation, Environmental Systems Analysis

Mathias Janssen

Chalmers, Teknikens ekonomi och organisation, Environmental Systems Analysis

Magdalena Svanström

Chalmers, Teknikens ekonomi och organisation, Environmental Systems Analysis

International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment

0948-3349 (ISSN) 1614-7502 (eISSN)

Vol. 27 419-432

Lignin Based Carbon Fibres for Composites (LIBRE)

Europeiska kommissionen (EU) (EC/H2020/720707), 2016-11-01 -- 2020-10-31.


Hållbar utveckling






Övrig annan teknik


Kompositmaterial och -teknik



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