Environmental responsibility

Exel Composites is committed to decreasing the impact of its own operations on the environment, as well as to making products that contribute to decreasing customers’ environmental footprint.

Sustainability and mitigating climate change are global megatrends that increase composites demand in the long-term.

Exel Composites’ Quality, Environmental, Health and Safety (QEHS) Policy, Chemical Policy as well as the Group Code of Conduct and Supplier Code of Conduct guide the company’s measures related to quality and environmental impact. The company’s operations are governed by national environmental permits and complies with the requirements of the standards ISO 9001:2015 (quality management), ISO 14001:2015 (environmental management), ISO 45001:2017 (occupational health and safety) and ISO 26000 (social responsibility).

Exel Composites actively participates in the work of industry associations. This is an important way to ensure being up to date on the latest developments in environmental matters, activities to mitigate climate change, advances in environmental technology and new regulatory measures. Through its participation, Exel can also promote work related to standards for composites, building and structural design, such as the Eurocode. In addition to local composites associations, Exel is a member in EPTA, European Pultrusion Technology Association, EuCIA, European Composites Industry Association, and American Composites Manufacturers Association, ACMA.

Exel Composites’ environmental as well as sustainability matters are assessed as part of an overall group-wide quality management system. It is the responsibility of the Group Management Team to continuously develop and implement the system. Environmental impact, energy consumption, the use of raw materials and the amount of waste are monitored monthly on a Group level. Environmental risks are also assessed on factory level during inspections and controls conducted by national authorities and certification audits. According to Exel Composites’ risk assessment, fires, emissions, and chemical leakages into the water or ground present the biggest environmental risks. These risks are mitigated through pre-emptive safety measures, such as regular employee trainings, safety equipment and gear, sprinkler systems as well as safe storing of risky chemicals.

Responsible products

Safe and reliable products that help save resources through energy and material efficiencies, durability, as well as reduced maintenance requirements

Customers are at the center of all Exel Composites’ business decisions and not meeting the agreed requirements could have negative impact on the company’s business and its reputation. Customer satisfaction is regularly evaluated using for example the Net Promoter Score-method (NPS) and customer surveys. Ensuring the safety of all chemicals used in its products is a priority for Exel Composites. Many of our customers require us to comply with their Supplier Code of Conducts. Our customers also audit Exel against their sustainability, quality and safety requirements. In addition, Exel participates in sustainability programs invited by Exel’s customers. The purpose of these programs is to ensure a common approach to sustainability topics.

Saving resources with composites

The biggest impact of Exel Composites’ products on the environment and climate is after the manufacturing phase, during the use of the end-product. Because of their lightness, mechanical properties and durability, composites provide for longer life cycles and improved performance, thus lowering the overall environmental impact of the end-product. Composites are often lighter than alternative materials. They can result in lower installation and maintenance costs, easier handling and lower energy consumption over the lifecycle of the product. Furthermore, composites are non-corrosive with a long life span, which reduces the need for maintenance and replacement.

A reliable life cycle assessment for composites covering the whole lifecycle is challenging as they often are only one part of an end-product that consists of several components and materials. An EuCIA developed tool helps calculate objectively the environmental impact of a composite product for the manufacturing phase, i.e. ‘cradle to gate’. It is being increasingly used by Exel.

Due to properties such as lightness and energy efficiency, composites are also used in sustainability enhancing technologies and solutions, such as wind power and electric cars, among other. In 2020, wind power continued to grow as Exel’s largest customer industry. Demand in this customer industry is driven by regulations aiming to reduce the impact of climate change and favoring sustainable energy sources. In addition, the average size of new wind turbines is growing, yielding to requirements of longer and stiffer wind turbine blades. Exel’s composite solutions to wind turbine manufacturers enable the design of lighter and bigger rotor blades as well as improved energy efficiency even with low winds. In 2020, Exel also joined a project led by the University of Aachen in Germany, where companies from different fields cooperate to investigate the impact of composites and other materials on the weight, performance and cost of the battery casing used in electric cars.

Responsible operations

Decreasing environmental and climate impact of own operations through waste management, energy efficiency and reduced emissions

Energy efficiency and emissions

Exel’s greenhouse gas emissions from own operations are mostly carbon dioxide that is formed in the company’s own use of fuels, transportation of materials and external power production as well as heating. Sourcing of raw materials is as local and close to the manufacturing unit as possible, which reduces emissions from transportation.

Exel Composites’ long-term target is to reduce its total use of energy proportional to production. The primary energy source is electrical energy. In addition to production, heating has a major impact on the total energy usage as Exel’s largest production sites are situated in northern locations. Energy use is actively measured. Consumption is reduced through measures such as continuous improvements in all units related to operational efficiency, the use of bio-fuel operated heating systems, heat recovering air exchange equipment, heat pumps, LED lighting and inverter-controlled drives, where applicable. In 2020, our unit in Great Britain joined the British Plastics Federation in a two-year scheme to reduce energy consumption. In the new manufacturing facility in Austria, energy efficiency, waste management as well as health and safety issues have been widely considered already throughout the design phase.

Production KPI’s

2020

2019

2018

1)

Energy usage, GWh 21.4 22.1 19.9
Energy usage, change from previous year, % -2.8 11.0 6.3
Energy usage in proportion to production, change from previous year, % -3.5 -17.0 -15.0
Composite waste per ton produced, change from previous year, % -11.8 -5.3 26.6
Reused waste, % 40.4 33.7 43.3

1) Figures include only those production sites that have been operational as part of Exel Composites Group during all of the financial year.

 

Waste management

The main operational efficiency goal for Exel Composites is to reduce operational or composite waste, which is inevitably generated as part of the regular production process. Exel has a waste management plan and continuously monitors and aims to reduce the amount of waste produced. The amount is dependent on the product mix and is therefore volatile. As products are mostly developed “on-demand” in close cooperation with customers, the use of raw materials is as efficient as possible. Factors such as product design and complexity, size of production batches and the quality of raw materials also contribute to the amount of surplus. Continuous dialogue with the customer in the early design stages is therefore critical from a quality and production point of view as well as from a waste management perspective.

Exel is committed to reusing and recycling surplus materials from own production to prevent landfilling, for example, by reusing surplus resin mixes whenever possible. Where logistically, technologically and economically possible, composite waste goes to recycling. This means, for example, grinding composite waste to be used as raw material in the production of cement, which is possible already today for example in Central Europe. In Finland, the volumes of surplus usable as raw material have been too low and distances too long for it to be economically viable. In 2020, Exel joined a project, coordinated by the Finnish Plastics Federation and starting in 2021, that aims to find a solution to this challenge. Our business unit in the United States partnered in 2020 with a local carbon fiber recycling company. The unit also invested in a new acetone reclaiming system, which reduces surplus acetone as well as the need for new acetone. In Austria, acetone is also recycled, and the unit’s acetone usage and consumption were evaluated in 2020.

The composite waste that cannot be recycled is recycled through combustion where possible. In Central Europe, among others, incineration of waste is widely used, but not currently feasible in the northern location. Other than composite waste is recycled whenever possible.

In 2020, Exel Composites introduced a Group-wide Circular Economy initiative through which we commit to significantly improving the environmental footprint of our own operations. The initiative involves several focus areas, the first one of which targets to significantly reduce the amount of waste going to landfill. In addition, the aim is to recycle all recyclable waste and find innovative ways to reuse or repurpose production waste. The initiative also aims to instill a continuous waste reduction culture across the Group. Engaging employees and customers alike in the process, as well as researching current industry best practices, are also important aspects of the initiative.

Climate-related risks and opportunities

RISKS

OPPORTUNITIES

POLICY AND LEGAL

  • Regulation, which radically reduces consumption in general.
  • Regulation changes impacting composite production specifically, e.g. regarding chemicals or their risk classification.
  • Regulation hampering adaptation to composites or delays in the implementation of favorable standards.
  • Regulatory differences in Europe, America and Asia.

PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

  • Composites are non-toxic, durable and maintenance-free products, and therefore climate friendly. A composite product does not leak or emit anything into the air or the ground.
  • Regulations mitigating climate change increase demand for composites.
  • Climate friendly product design and use in customer acquisition.
  • Leveraging and expanding collaboration with research centers and universities.

TECHNOLOGICAL

  • Favoring other materials and not considering the climate-impact on the full lifecycle of the end product.
  • Potential new, climate friendlier production technologies e.g. solvent-free technologies.

RESOURCE EFFICIENCY

  • Increasing energy efficiency.
  • Innovation in recycling and reuse of composites.
  • Increasing the use of bio-based raw materials.
  • Climate-friendly developments in production technology, e.g. closed bath impregnation of fibers.

MARKET AND REPUTATION

  • Reputational risk due to the challenging recycling of pultruded composites.
  • Reputational risk due to misunderstanding composites as merely “plastics”.

MARKETS

  • Increasing demand of products that mitigate climate change.
  • Building awareness about the benefits of composites and production technologies used by Exel.
  • Expanding into new applications and industries where possibilities of composites are yet unveiled.

PHYSICAL

  • Extreme weather conditions that cause interruptions in production or in the supply chain.

 

Climate-related risks and opportunities both could potentially have a significant financial impact on Exel Composites’ business in terms of revenue gain or loss, unexpected expenditures or investments requirements. Climate-related risks could also impact the valuation of Exel’s assets or ability to obtain financing.