Connora Technologies, a relatively new company in Hayward, Calif., has developed an entirely different recycling process that does not involve grinding, burning or using solvolysis on uncured resin. As Connora CEO Rey Banatao explains, the company’s Recyclamine process does what no other known process can do: recycle a cured epoxy thermoset into a thermoplastic.
“If you want to make something recyclable, especially a material that wasn’t recyclable before, you need to redesign it at the chemistry level,” Banatao says. During the process, Connora engineers a curing agent to have a cleavable bond, so when it reacts with the epoxy, it forms a thermoset with all the inherent properties and high-performance characteristics that one would want in a traditional epoxy thermoset.
“When you cleave that bond, it comes back as a thermoplastic,” Banatao explains. “You can pull out all the other components of your composites – carbon fiber, fiberglass, whatever. You would then later reclaim the plastic out of that recycling solution.”
According to Banatao, this is the first example of recycled thermosets being reclaimed as reusable materials, where thermosets are normally disposed. Banatao says Connora’s process can actually get back whole woven fibers so the fibers are totally free of the polymer matrix. However, as Banatao says, with many new technologies, it will take time for it to be fully embraced by the composites industry and end users. Still, Banatao remains optimistic.
“People are very slow to change, so that’s our battle today in terms of adoption as a solution,” Banatao says. He hopes that as early adopters demonstrate the Recyclamine process as a viable alternative to traditional recycling methods, the industry will change its mindset.
Banatao says, however, that although it’s not on the cusp of widespread commercialization, the company has been drawing interested customers from the sporting goods market – which he sees as the “low hanging fruit” of the nascent recycled carbon fiber industry.