In a new study, researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder have found have found an eco-friendly and cost-effective way to recycle carbon-fiber composites – stronger than steel and lighter than aluminum – into new materials just as strong as the originals. According to Wei Zhang, CU-Boulder associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, recycling the team’s carbon-fiber composites simply requires soaking the composite in an organic solution at room temperature.

“That’s it,” Zhang said in a February 15 press release. “It’s really energy-efficient and eco-friendly.” Zhang refers to it as “an energy neutral closed-loop recycling process” that could easily be scaled up.

Although the process may sound simple, Zhang calls his team’s treatment of CFRP “unprecedented,” considering both the fabrication of the new material and the recycling are energy-efficient, comparatively fast, and could potentially address barriers to wider uses in manufacturing. Zhang says the carbon fiber composite is “more quickly fabricated than most carbon fiber composites, which can take an hour to cure.”

Philip Taynton, who earned his doctorate in Zhang’s laboratory last year, is the lead author of the study and co-founder of a start-up company, Mallinda LLC, which is working to bring the novel carbon fiber composite to market. The company’s first marketing target is sporting gear such as shin guards.

“You can mold it directly to your body, but it will take whatever impact you can throw at it,” Taynton said.

The technology is now patent-pending, and Mallinda LLC has signed an exclusive licensing agreement with the University of Colorado Boulder. The start-up has also received $150,000 in support from a National Science Foundation (NSF) Small Business Innovative Research Grant.

Read the full study, Repairable Woven Carbon Fiber Composites with Full Recyclability Enabled by Malleable Polyimine Networks, here.