Researchers make manufacturing technique safer

Researchers in the UK have identified a method to almost eradicate the human and environmental dangers posed by a widely used manufacturing technique.

Fibre-reinforced polymer matrix composites are painted or sprayed onto products to provide a high-quality finish in transport applications, chemical plants, renewable energy systems and pipelines.

But that finishing process causes the vapours of a volatile organic compound – styrene, found in polyesters and vinyl-esters.

A team from Plymouth University has reduced the levels of styrene emitted by more than 98 per cent.

According to the leader of the study Dr John Summerscales, Styrene's health and environmental impacts have been the subject of much attention.

“Exposure to styrene has previously been linked to altered mood states, in particular aggression, while its vapour has been reported to cause depression, fatigue and a slowing in reaction times,” he said.

“By reducing styrene levels in the workplace, there would be numerous positive results such as improving retention of workforce personnel, minimising release to the environment and reducing odour at the factory boundary.”

The finding was the result of InGeCt, a two-year research collaboration, which also involved other academics and companies across Europe.