“This technology helps solve a problem for the waste generators, but it also helps create low-cost, recycled carbon fiber downstream, which unlocks opportunities that couldn’t exist otherwise, like high-volume lightweighting for the automotive industry,” Maxey says.
Over the last 18 months, Vartega has been working with IACMI – The Composites Institute on projects that could close the loop on automotive carbon fiber scrap and eventually make high-volume production possible. The goal is to address the challenges of creating consistent recycled carbon fiber thermoplastics for use in vehicle lightweighting. Other project partners include Ford, Dow, Michelman, Techmer PM, Michigan State University, Colorado School of Mines, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the University of Tennessee and the University of Dayton Research Group.
“Carbon fiber recycling technology has matured significantly over the past decade, but several challenges still exist in producing materials at automotive scale,” says Maxey. “We recognized that a holistic approach needed to be taken to create supply chain solutions for recycled carbon fiber.” He will share some of the data from this project at ACMA’s virtual Composites Recycling Conference in May.
Processing Close to the Source
Vartega has two business models for its recycling technology. The first is the scenario in which Vartega processes the manufacturing scrap at its facility in Colorado and sells the recycled carbon fiber. The second model is onsite or local recycling, described here.
Vartega has designed its carbon fiber recycling equipment to fit within a modular unit that companies can lease and install at their production sites. “What’s unique about this is that we can deploy the technology close to the source of the manufacturing scrap,” explains Maxey. The manufacturer can run the process, or Vartega will come in and run it for them.
All of the post-processing – converting the reclaimed carbon fiber into saleable products – will remain in house at Vartega for now since many customers don’t have an immediate reuse application. “We’re able to close the gap in the supply chain and connect a captive supply to an unmet demand downstream,” says Maxey.
The markets Vartega is targeting for these modular units are composites manufacturers serving the aerospace industry and their carbon fiber suppliers, which send hundreds of tons of scrap material to landfills each year. If manufacturers don’t want to set up their own processing centers, Maxey says Vartega could establish regional recycling centers to handle scrap from many different companies. Although this wouldn’t be as efficient as having a unit onsite, companies could reduce their transportation costs because they wouldn’t have to send their waste long distances to Vartega’s Colorado location.