Carbon fibre recycling and reuse

Thomas Hunter of Firebird Advanced Materials, a Raleigh, North Carolina, USA, research company, discussed the significant challenges facing recyclers and the need for collaboration and input from the supply chain in order to minimise costs.

The easiest and most cost effective stage at which to sort the scrap is at the point of generation, but the big challenge is determining how to provide incentive to the waste generator, Hunter noted. A recycler-driven model is not economically viable, yet neither is a waste generator-driven model. Only by sharing the cost and investment between generator and recycler can a sustainable revenue chain be established, he said.

Recycling scrap from Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner was addressed by Jan-Michel Goseau of Adherent Technologies, an Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA, R&D firm. He related that a multi-stage recycling process has been developed that can handle the thermoplastic toughened layers between the standard epoxy composite. Different recovery technologies can have their place in a recycling plant, processing materials from a variety of sources, Goseau added, noting that Adherent Technologies plans to establish a 1000 ton/year carbon fibre recycling facility in the near future.

Professor Nick Warrior, head of the University of Nottingham’s Polymer Composites Group, addressed automotive applications of carbon fibre and the need for recyclability due to tighter end-of-life vehicle legislation. By 2015, a minimum of 95% of vehicle materials will have to be recycled, he pointed out. He discussed two projects run in partnership with Ford which have been successful in incorporating fibres in bulk moulding compounds for producing prepregs and sheet moulding materials.

Carbon fibre research performed by Warrior has earned him one of engineering’s top prizes – the Royal Academy of Engineering’s prestigious Silver Medal. “His work has shown that mass-produced vehicles can be up to 50% lighter and still maintain crash-test performance using lightweight carbon fibre composites,” the University announced. “He has demonstrated that composites are now a legitimate material for use in high-volume production (up to 20 000 vehicles a year).” 

This article is an abstract of the feature: Carbon fibre producers optimistic in downturn, published in the January/February 2010 issue of Reinforced Plastics magazine. Read the complete feature here.