Environmental responsibility

Exel Composites is committed to minimizing the environmental impact of its own operations as well as to making products that contribute to decreasing its customers’ environmental footprint. Sustainability is a global megatrend that brings also new business opportunities in the long-term in all Exel’s customer segments and market areas.

Exel Composites’ Quality, Environmental, Health and Safety (QEHS) Policy, Chemical Policy as well as the Group 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, ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001. In 2018 the Group's Austrian, Belgian, British, Chinese, German and Finnish units were recertified according to the environmental standard version ISO 14001/2015. The Erlanger unit in the USA, which was acquired in 2018, is ISO 9001/2015 certified and preparing for ISO 14001 certification. Exel Composites’ target is that all Group units are certified.

Exel Composites actively participates in the work of industry associations to ensure being up-to-date on the latest developments in environmental matters, advances in environmental technology and new regulatory measures. Exel is, for example, a full member in EPTA, European Pultrusion Technology Association, and plays a leading role in EuCIA, European Composites Industry Association, which is one of the important sustainability influencers in the industry. Recently Exel has joined the activities of American Composites Manufacturers Association, ACMA. Through its participation in these and other industry associations, Exel is also involved in promoting standards related to composites, building and structural design.

Exel Composites’ environmental risks and sustainability issues are assessed as part of an overall group-wide quality management system, the development and implementation of which is the responsibility of the Group Management Team. 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 or 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

Customers are at the center of all Exel Composites’ business decisions. Designing, producing and selling a product that does not meet the agreed requirements could have negative impact on the company reputation. Exel’s aim is to offer a superior customer experience and customer satisfaction is regularly evaluated through customer surveys. The company is committed to providing them with safe and reliable products that contribute to sustainable development. Ensuring the safety of all chemicals used in its products is a priority for Exel Composites. Many of the company’s key customers also require Exel to comply with their Supplier Code of Conducts and audit Exel against their quality and safety requirements.

Exel Composites’ products are mostly tailored according to customer requirements and developed “on-demand” in close cooperation and constant dialogue with customers. Optimized requirements translate into optimized use of materials. Typically Exel’s products are composites reinforced with either glass or carbon fibers. The decision concerning technology as well as the materials used can significantly improve the environmental footprint of the end product, not only in the manufacturing phase, but also during the rest of the product’s lifecycle. Due to the fact that composites are often part of an end product, developing a reliable lifecycle assessment method for composite products only covering the whole lifecycle of a product is challenging.

Composites can replace traditional building materials such as steel, aluminum and concrete or add to their value when combined in a hybrid solution. Composites are much lighter than metals and therefore, in comparison to alternative materials, can result in lower installation and maintenance costs, easier handling, as well as lower fuel and energy consumption over their lifecycle, which is also a result of the inherently thermally insulating nature of composites for example when used in the construction market. Furthermore, composites are durable and non-corrosive with a long life span, which reduces the amount of energy intensive maintenance and the need for replacement. Exel’s products are also used in sustainability enhancing technologies and solutions, such as wind energy and electric cars, among other.

Wind energy industry grew most in 2018

Wind energy is a high growth industry, where increasing demand is driven by regulations that aim to reduce the impact of climate change and favoring sustainable energy sources. Also the average size of new wind turbines is growing, yielding to requirements of longer and stiffer wind turbine blades. Exel has for many years supplied composite solutions to wind turbine manufacturers that enable the design of lighter and bigger rotor blades as well as improved energy efficiency even with low winds. In 2018 the wind energy industry, which is part of Exel’s Construction & Infrastructure customer segment, outgrew in revenue telecommunications, which has been the largest client industry in the past few years.

First experiences with bio-based composites

Exel Composites has been active in experimenting and testing bio materials in its production for many years. In 2018 the world’s first bio-based viaduct was inaugurated in the city of Bergen op Zoom, the Netherlands. The bridge’s side screens were constructed using Exel Composites’ composite profiles, manufactured of flax fibers reinforced with a bio-based resin. Interest for bio-based composites is expected to gradually grow as experience and environmental awareness increase and as supportive regulative framework is introduced more widely.

Responsible operations

Exel Composites’ primary energy source is electrical energy. In addition to production load, heating has a major impact on the total energy usage as the company’s largest production sites are situated in Northern locations. The company actively measures its energy use and takes measures to reduce consumption through improvements in operational efficiency and using heat recovering air exchange equipment, heat pumps, LED lighting and inverter controlled drives, where applicable. Exel has also invested in a bio-fuel (pellet) operated district heating unit at the Joensuu site in Finland, which is the company’s biggest production site. Also the Mäntyharju site in Finland uses bio-fuel operated district heating. Exel’s long term target is to reduce its total use of energy proportional to production.

Carbon dioxide formed in own use of fuels, transportation of materials and external power production represents most of Exel’s greenhouse gas emissions. The manufacturing of fiber-reinforced plastics with generally available raw materials also entails emitting volatile organic compounds (VOC). Exel monitors and conducts tests on its VOC emissions, such as styrene, and invests in reducing them in order to always be within the permitted levels as required by local legislation and regulations. In 2018 a larger emissions evaluation was conducted at the Joensuu production facility in Finland and in the Voerde production unit in Germany the bio-pulp in the bio-filter was renewed, among other things.

In potential accident situations immediate corrective and protective actions are always done in cooperation with local authorities to minimize harm or danger to the environment or people. Incidents and near-miss situations are always investigated in order to improve the processes and train the employees to recognize and prevent risk situations. A report on the incident and the corrective actions taken are also shared with the other Group production facilities to prevent similar from happening elsewhere.

As part of the regular production process, a certain amount of composite waste is inevitably generated. As Exel Composites produces products according to each customer’s needs, the amount of loss is highly dependent on the product mix and is therefore highly volatile. Exel has a waste management plan and continuously monitors and aims to reduce the amount of waste produced. The company is committed to re-using composite waste and where logistically, technologically or economically possible, composite waste goes to recycling. The recyclability of composites, however, remains a relatively complex topic with challenges that also vary from country to country. Exel is an active participant in programs to develop composite recycling where it is currently not possible. The company is also an end-user of existing composite recycling solutions like CompoCycle.

Exel Composites Oyj, Vantaa head office, Mäkituvantie 5, FI-01510 Vantaa, Finland