During SAMPE Seattle 2017, Steelhead Composites, in partnership with Vartega and Michelman, debuted the first composite overwrapped pressure vessel (COPV) manufactured from continuous recycled carbon fiber tow.

Steelhead Composites fabricated a type 3 COPV using only recycled continuous carbon fiber tow supplied by Vartega Inc. The fiber was recycled with Vartega Inc’s proprietary process, and was sized by Michelman. This collaboration marks the first time that waste continuous tow carbon fiber towpreg has been reclaimed, recycled, and put back into the original manufacturing process.

Before now, recycled carbon fiber has been relegated to secondary products as chopped fiber or filler. This milestone, the partners believe, sets a new precedent for the future of continuous carbon fiber tows.

According to Andrew Maxey, Vartega Inc. President, the project team took the vessel from concept to reality in just a few months. Sean Kline, Vartega’s vice president of engineering, added that the project “was an excellent demonstration of both the utility of recycled carbon fiber in end-use products and the value of industry cooperation when bridging technical hurdles.”

Jake Schrader, Steelhead’s Product Development Specialist, says the recycled fiber From Vartega processed very well with the sizing from Michelman. He adds that it was handled just like any other dry fiber would be in a traditional wet winding set up, and there were no issues with fraying or splitting.

The team is planning a scale-up of the recycling process that should allow them to wind a much larger vessel in the not-too-distant future.