SUSTAINair: bringing the aerospace and aviation sectors in line with circular principles


Starting in January 2021 and spanning a period of 3.5 years with a budget of EUR 5 million, the SUSTAINair project is a collaboration involving 11 European research organisations and industrial partners. The project is coordinated by Jürgen Roither, research engineer at the Centre for Low-Emission Transport at the Austrian Institute of Technology AIT-LKR, Austria's largest research and technology organisation.

The Horizon 2020 project SUSTAINair was launched recently. It aims to research and develop solutions to increase resource efficiency and aircraft performance while cutting down on waste and material costs throughout the aircraft life cycle - what is known as "circular aviation". The COVID-19 crisis has plunged the sector into uncertainty, with many aircraft being taken out of service earlier than anticipated. Despite that, boosting the post-pandemic aviation industry's green transition remains a strategic objective for governments.

This EU-funded research aims to make the entire aviation supply chain ecosystem greener, in line with the Circular Economy Action Plan, and to set new standards for aerospace manufacturing, enabling an increase in cross-sector synergies. Based on the circular economy approach, SUSTAINair provides the aviation sector with a path to a more cost-effective, low-carbon economy while tackling the increase in resource consumption, waste and emissions. Because of this, the SUSTAINair project has been endorsed by the Future Sky research initiative of the Association of European Research Establishments in Aeronautics (EREA).

Main results
  • The recycling methods developed by SUSTAINair for both metal and composite aerospace materials will significantly reduce the amount of waste generated during manufacturing and end-of-life processes
  • Upcycling solutions will be developed for carbon and glass fibre thermoset materials, as well as high-performance thermoplastic composites
  • SUSTAINair will develop not only innovative materials for a flexible wing, but also techniques to integrate sensors into the material used
  • The particular expertise of project partners in welding and other joining techniques could ultimately eliminate the need for rivets. The project will develop a robot head that automatically detects and removes rivets, allowing for higher value recycled material.