An environmentally-friendly alternative
Dealing with VOCs (volatile organic compounds) once they are produced can be a difficult, time consuming and expensive task, which is why Airbus is concentrating on reducing or eliminating their production at the source. This is best for the environment, and it also avoids any potential long-term health risks.
A successful example of this approach already has reached maturity at Airbus’ Saint-Nazaire, France site. Traditionally, panels produced at the plant were finished using chemicals that left slurries and generated VOCs. In 2005, Airbus and Dufieux Industrie launched the Green Advanced Panels (GAP) project with the aim of developing an environmentally friendly alternative to the use of chemicals.
The project resulted in the patented mirror milling system, which is entirely mechanical and produces no VOCs. The only by-product is aluminium shaving chips which are ideally suited to safe recycling. The new process also has reduced operating costs and production times. Since 2008, all A320 lower shell central panels have been produced this way.
More eco-efficient painting and sealing
Airbus uses a combination of innovative techniques and day-to-day operational improvements to boost the eco-efficiency of its aircraft painting procedures. At the core of this effort is Airbus' “base coat, clear coat” livery painting method, which requires only one layer of thick paint and a layer of varnish or clear coat for protection. This represents a dramatic reduction in paint volume when compared to the six coats standard methods can utilise. The overall reduction in paint use has a proportionate impact on VOC emissions.
The use of solvents to clean painting equipment has been reduced 90 per cent by changing the way solvents are distributed, and by using lighter disposable wipes instead of cloth to rinse down newly-painted aircraft. In Hamburg, a new procedure to paint the A380 is in operation, with electrostatic guns keeping paint mist to a minimum while exhaust air is cleaned and treated – ensuring that particles of paint can be disposed of separately. A consequent reduction in VOC emissions has been achieved.
At Airbus facilities in Toulouse, France and Broughton, England, initiatives aimed at preventing the over-use of sealants are reducing VOC emissions by ensuring that the volume of sealant utilised is controlled and monitored. Although the prime environmental driver in these projects is waste reduction, there will be a contribution to blue5's VOC target too. Once again, prevention has proved to be better than treatment.