As the technologies improve and new markets open for both recycled glass and recycled carbon fibers, the supply of both will increase to meet the demand. There is a lot of opportunity for growth of recovered fibers: Among the approximately 100,000 tons of primary carbon fiber produced each year, about 30,000 tons become scrap in the production process and only about 10 percent of that is currently recycled.
“There’s still a long way to go to make sure that the 30,000 tons of carbon fiber scrap is handled responsibly and sustainably and recycled,” Gledhill says. “I think it will become self-evident that when you have a waste stream that has inherent value, there are economic incentives to keep it out of a hole in the ground.” In Europe, at least, there are also regulations to prevent landfilling.
“Those two things will come together and drive the development of more recycling capacity,” Gledhill says.
“Industry interest in composite recycling used to be low, but that has changed,” Ozcan adds. “People are excited about it. The more that they hear from us, they more they want to be involved. They understand the importance and the possibilities.”
To spur international cooperation, ACMA has taken a leadership role in establishing the Global Composites Recycling Coalition. It includes six trade associations, five labs/universities and 25 companies with representation from Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and Australia. “We have been promoting the idea of cooperating and disseminating technology,” says Dan Coughlin, ACMA’s vice president of composites market development.
The group met in 2016 and 2017 and plans another meeting this year. Participants have discussed topics such as recycling technologies and strategies, standards developments for recycled fibers and parts, promoting market pull for recycled composite products and overcoming barriers to composites recycling.
ACMA will also bring together experts from around the world for its first-ever Composites Recycling Conference, scheduled for April 10-12 in Knoxville, Tenn. For more information, visit www.acmanet.org/recycling.