Analysis and Design for Sustainable Circularity of Barrier Films Used in Sheet Molding Composites Production

Farshid Nazemi, Bhavik Bakshi, Jose Castro, Rachmat Mulyana, Rebecca Hanes, Saikrishna Mukkamala, Kevin Dooley, George Basile, George Stephanopoulos, Andrea Nahas, Aleen Kujur, Todd Hyche

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Sheet molding composites (SMC) are thermoset based molding compounds with a global market size of USD 2.1 billion in 2020. SMC is usually processed with multilayer barrier/carrier films to prevent emissions from volatile organic compounds (VOC). The plastic barriers are separated from SMC after the curing process and discarded. To illustrate the high consumption volume of SMC barrier/carrier films, Kohler Co., a company which uses SMC in their bath and showering product lines, alone generates over 1M lb/year of SMC barrier/carrier film waste. Therefore, high amount of SMC barrier/carrier film plastic waste creates a great opportunity for reusing, recycling, or valorization at its end of life. This can be achieved through transition from a linear to a circular supply chain design. However, this transition will not be feasible without overcoming the technical and economic barriers. This project aims to tackle this by making the film circular. Different end of life alternatives will be evaluated experimentally. The reusability of the film will be studied through applying different mechanical and solvent cleaning techniques. The operability concerns regarding the utilization of the cleaned film for long run operations will be addressed by thermally stitching the film. Pelletizing of the cleaned film will also be investigated as a viable technique for recycling or downcycling of the film as molded products. In addition to technical barriers, designing a sustainable circular supply chain for SMC carrier film products requires uncovering the collaboration opportunities between suppliers and users at different stages of the value chain to expand its use to other products. These opportunities will be investigated by finding companies willing to buy or treat the plastic film waste. Finally, the economic viability and environmental impacts of these circular design alternatives will be evaluated through techno-economic assessment (TEA) and life cycle analysis (LCA). Techno-economic and life cycle inventory data for various pathways will also be made available as one of the main outcomes of this project. Preliminary LCA results indicate that the current SMC film supply chain (base case) emits 5.81 tonne CO2 eq. and consumes 104 GJ energy per tonne of SMC film. It is estimated that alternative circular pathways result in 14-20% less CO2 emissions and 34-44% reduction in embodied energy. This project will develop a tool to analyze the circularity and sustainability of hundreds of combinations of alternatives in different life cycle stages. Users of this tool will be able to choose the best combination among these alternatives with respect to the selected economic, environmental and circularity objectives.
Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationTechnology Innovation for the Circular Economy: Recycling, Remanufacturing, Design, Systems Analysis and Logistics
EditorsN. Nasr
StatePublished - 2024

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/CH-6A20-90205


  • circular economy
  • end of life management
  • life cycle assessment
  • multilayer film
  • plastic recycling
  • plastic waste
  • sheet molding compound
  • techno-economic analysis


Dive into the research topics of 'Analysis and Design for Sustainable Circularity of Barrier Films Used in Sheet Molding Composites Production'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this