In the present work the carbon footprint and the financial viability of different materials, manufacturing scenarios, as well as recycling scenarios, associated with the production of aeronautical structural components are assessed. The materials considered were carbon fiber reinforced epoxy and carbon fiber reinforced PEEK (polyetheretherketone). The manufacturing techniques compared were the autoclave, resin transfer molding (RTM) and cold diaphragm forming (CDF). The recycling scenarios included mechanical recycling and pyrolysis. For this purpose, Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) and Life Cycle Costing (LCC) models were developed and implemented for the case of a helicopter’s canopy production. The results of the study pointed out that producing the canopy by using carbon fiber reinforced thermosetting composites and involving RTM as the manufacturing process is the optimal route both in terms of environmental and financial efficiency. The environmental and financial efficiency of the scenarios including thermoplastic composites as the material of choice is impaired from both the high embodied energy and raw material cost of PEEK. The scenarios investigated do not account for potential benefits arising from the recyclability and the improved reusability of thermoplastic matrices as compared to thermosetting ones. This underlines the need for a holistic aircraft structural optimization approach including not only performance and weight but also cost and environmental criteria.
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