James Colegrove has been working in the composites industry for nearly 30 years, 20 of which has been with Wisconsin-based Trek Bicycle. He helped develop Trek’s OCLV molding technology and has been involved with design and process development of carbon fiber bikes like the Madone, Speed concept, “Y” bike, and the original 5500 models. Colgrove has a bachelor’s in recreational small business management from the University of Utah along with mechanical and manufacturing engineering coursework, holds several bike related patents and recently helped develop a system to recycle carbon fiber bike parts.

James Colegrove, Senior Composites Engineer, Trek Bicycle

James Colegrove, Senior Composites Engineer, Trek Bicycle

As a manufacturer, why focus on recycling?

As a company, we have tried to focus on doing the right thing. We have also tried to focus on promoting bicycles and bicycling as a solution to many of our national and even global problems. This recycling program is just another extension of what we’ve been doing for quite a while. It’s not just about our image as a bicycle company. It’s about finding other opportunities and other uses for a very expensive, very high-performance material. It’s about closing the loop.

What are the challenges in recycling CFRP?

The cost of the raw carbon fiber (CFRP) highly depends on the stiffness and ultimate strength of the material. To get the biggest bang for the buck, we need to separate the fiber out by these different grades as best as we can, otherwise you end up having to sell one of the most expensive high or ultra-high-grade materials for a standard modulus or strength material. If you combine all the different recycling streams with the complication of different fiber types, complications arise.

Another significant complication is purely logistical. We are up in central Wisconsin, our recycling partner is down in South Carolina. We have to get a truck full of material from here to down there so they can recycle it. And if you can imagine, we have dealers all around the country and around the world that want to start recycling their carbon bikes rather than putting them into a landfill. This starts to become a fairly large logistical nightmare.

Long term, what should the industry expect for recycled material?

We understood very clearly that if we could recycle our carbon fiber, it would open up many opportunities for us in the future. Right now we are investigating products we might be able to use recycled material in to close the loop. If we can bring a couple of these project ideas to fruition, our consumers can bring in their carbon fiber frame and it would get recycled. Then, we could take the reclaimed material and put it into yet another product. If we provide reclaimed material into the value stream, other industries like auto , airspace, defense, clean energy could use it in secondary parts. It’s a net gain for all of us, and that makes the whole program much more viable.