The CAMX education session, “Recycling and Re-use of Composites – Sustainability for Market Expansion” on Wednesday, Dec. 13, provided attendees with a wealth of information as eight panelists gave perspectives on advances in carbon fiber recycling, emerging markets and key lessons for further growth.

Stella Job, supply chain and environment manager, Composites UK, kicked off the session with an overview of recycling processes in development or already commercialized, including pyrolysis, fluidized bed, solvolysis, grinding (for GFRP) and combustion. Job also outlined recycling drivers that provide the “why” of recycling, such as the demand for cheaper carbon fiber and, in Europe, rising landfill costs and new legislation.

Job was followed by seven presenters, who provided multiple perspectives. Five key takeaways emerged:

  1. Recycling is not a ‘nice to have’ add on, but a huge opportunity.

David L. Wagger, chief scientist and director of environmental management at the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc. (ISRI) says that his organization represents the “biggest industry you’ve never heard” with $117 billion and more than 500,000 related U.S. jobs. He said the recycling industry is currently dominated by iron and steel (50 percent) and paper (40 percent). “We’d like to change that to make your businesses and our businesses more sustainable and grow,” said Wagger.

Markets are ripe for recycling, stressed Bo Liang, chairman and CEO of Adesso Advanced Materials, which has developed Cleavamine® degradable curing agent and Recycloset® recyclable resin. “Right now, in the EU, they have already set up a regulation that 95 percent of automotive parts must be recycled. So, it is the time to solve this problem!” said Liang.  “Otherwise, the composites industry really faces a dilemma.”

2. Design for a circular economy.

Job admitted that composites can be “intractable by design.” She and other presenters urged manufacturers to consider designing for end-of-life and recycling from the outset. She added that it is also crucial to work with the waste management industry to develop realistic solutions that can accelerate the commercial viability of recycling. “There’s no point in creating a process that relies on, for example, cars being dismantled in a certain way, if they are not going to be dismantled in that way,” she said.

Wagger told attendees that ISRI’s Design for Recycling® program is available to help manufacturers think of ways to eliminate or reduce hazardous materials and substances that impede the recycling process, incorporate the highest amount of recyclable materials into designs and realize the highest yield of recyclable materials at end-of-life.

3. Develop more markets for recycling.

All panelists agreed that markets for recycled carbon fiber need to be aggressively expanded. “That’s where the bottleneck is,” explained Job. “We’ve got some good processes out there,” but we need to develop markets, we need to learn how to use this ‘fluffy stuff’ that comes out of [recycling] that doesn’t look anything like prepreg.”

“You need markets,” added Wagger. “You can do a lot of collecting and processing, but at the end of the day if you don’t have anyone to sell it to, you haven’t recycled.”

4. Don’t call scrap or end-of-life products ‘waste.

“We want to call this a secondary use material. We do not want to refer to it as waste,” emphasized Pete George of Boeing. Regulation of secondary materials as “waste” limits its availability, value, marketability and mobility. Of concern, according to Wagger, is the patchwork of state regulations that impede the flow of materials to recyclers and commodities to markets.

5. It’s happening!

Ronald E. Allred of V-Carbon reports that his company, which is just one-year-old, is successfully recycling carbon fiber from 787 parts from Spirit Euro using both low-pressure, low-temperature and high-pressure, high-temperature chemolysis and pyrolysis and fiber finishing. The company is now looking to use its own recycled fibers to make non-woven fabric, aligned short fiber tape and spun staple continuous yarn, and to turn those materials into end products. Current prototypes include bicycle saddles and luxury yacht window frames.

Alasdair Gledhill, commercial director of ELG Carbon Fiber Ltd., discussed the iStream concept car developed by Gordon Murray Design for TVR, launched at the Goodwood Revival in the United Kingdom last September. The iStream Carbon concept further reduces weight compared to the already lightweight and efficient original iStream concept, which used glass fiber panels. Gledhill stressed, “This is real. This is happening.”