CIDETEC Surface Engineering is working on giving aircraft metals a second life

The REINTEGRA project is one year into its goal of recycling light Al-Li alloys from aircraft.

The constant growth of the aeronautical sector experienced in recent decades has brought with it a problem of waste generated by the end of the aircraft’s useful life, which responds to the sector’s high quality requirements, leading to what are now known as aircraft graveyards.

With the aim of turning this problem into an opportunity, CIDETEC Surface Engineering participates in the European project REINTEGRA, funded within the framework of the CleanSky 2 programme and led by the metallurgical centre Azterlan. During the project, which began in July 2020 and will end in April 2023, new methods are being developed to recover lightweight metal alloys from welded aircraft structures that have already been permanently parked.

REINTEGRA will investigate different separation and pickling strategies for welded panels composed of different 3rd generation aluminium-lithium (Al-Li) alloys in order to demonstrate that they can be re-smelt into alloys of the same family, minimising separation steps during aircraft dismantling.

CIDETEC Surface Engineering is working on the development of chemical and mechanical pickling processes to remove paint coatings and surface treatments applied on aircraft fuselage for aesthetic and anti-corrosion purposes. This will prevent the production of impurities in the re-smelting process, which would not allow recyclability in high value-added alloys.

This research will lead to new dismantling and recycling processes that will be tested on welding coupons and demonstrator panels. The separated metal fractions will be processed in a pilot smelting plant to produce ingots that will undergo various advanced characterisation tests. This will allow the assessment of the efficiency of the process in terms of cost, environmental impact and effectiveness.