Gledhill says ELG has the capability of scaling production to meet demand, and the company has set a goal of tripling its capacity in carbon fiber recycling within three years. “Our goal is to make recycled fiber an integral part of the supply chain,” says Gledhill. “We see recycled carbon fiber as being complementary to the growth of primary carbon fibers. In many ways, recycled carbon fiber helps to fill in the supply deficit, which is already forecast for primary carbon fiber.”
V-Carbon, co-founded by Ron Allred and Damian Cessario, is another company hoping to supply that need. It uses a low-pressure, moderate temperature chemolysis (decomposition using chemical agents) for reclaiming the carbon fiber from composites. It is establishing advanced manufacturing operations in Europe and has a prototype facility in the U.S. that produces about 30 pounds of reclaimed carbon fiber every three days. It will soon open a new plant in Wichita, Kan., that will be able to scale up to meet customers’ needs.
Allred, who serves as head of research and development at V-Carbon, says there is definitely a market for the product. “We have done extensive sampling and prototyping in Europe for the automotive industry and the marine industry for luxury yachts and sporting goods. In Europe, at least, they are very aware that it is coming,” he says. He’s confident that V-Carbon will also get a positive response from customers in the U.S. once the fiber is available in commercial quantities.
V-Carbon plans to vertically integrate its carbon recycling process. “We will generate the recycled fibers, we will process them into non-woven fabrics – both random and aligned – and sometimes make spun yards from them, and then we will have the manufacturing capabilities to produce parts and supply them to the marketplace,” says Allred. “We also have a family of sizings that allows for good translation of properties using the reclaimed fibers. That creates value in every step, and that will make the business profitable.”
The Business Case
Reducing costs is key to the growth of carbon fiber recycling. “Recycled carbon fiber offers a great value for some applications, striking the balance between performance and cost, which is all-important,” says Gledhill.
Recycling has other economic benefits as well. “IACMI estimates that it takes 15 percent of the energy to get the recycled fibers as it does to make the original fiber; that translates into a cost benefit,” says Allred.