West Coast Innovation

Opened in 2015, the CRTC is the world’s first facility for product development from recycled carbon fiber prepreg. It has drawn attention throughout the past year for making recycled carbon fiber paddles for a rapidly-growing sport called pickleball. The sport, invented in 1965, combines elements of badminton, tennis and table tennis. In December 2016, CRTC signed an exclusive distribution agreement with Pickleball Central to distribute the very first pickleball paddle made with recycled aerospace-grade carbon fiber.

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Dave Walter, chief operations officer at the Composite Recycling Technology Center (CRTC) in Port Angeles, Wash., demonstrates the CRTC’s first product, a recycled aerospace-quality carbon fiber pickleball paddle. Photo Credit: Jesse Major, Peninsula Daily News

“We started with very modest capabilities, which is why making something very simple like a pickleball paddle is a great way for us to start production, to get our feet wet, so to speak,” says CRTC CEO Bob Larsen. “It’s conventional wisdom that the biggest impediment to the growth of the recycled composites industry is lack of demand. CRTC intends to show the demand is there.  We plan to introduce three more products before the end of the year and multiple products in different segments in 2018.”

The CRTC’s goal is to recycle 1 million pounds of carbon fiber per year by 2022. Larsen is confident the CRTC will reach that goal thanks to its supply agreement with Toray, its role in IACMI and exposure to more partners in the industry (like ELG) through ACMA. “Our relationship with ELG has opened up several important high-volume markets that we intend to develop cost-competitive products for in the near future,” he says.

The center has also maintained relationships with Washington state officials such as Sen. Maria Cantwell (D) and Gov. Jay Inslee (D), who have recognized that with Boeing as a major contributor to the state’s economy, there needs to be legislation in place that invests resources into carbon fiber recycling. Larsen notes that the state’s clean energy fund allowed CRTC to obtain $7 million in grant money to buy new production equipment. In Congress, Cantwell has plans to reintroduce the Carbon Fiber Recycling Act to support the state’s need to recycle CFRP.

According to a study by honor society Phi Kappa Phi, Boeing and Airbus each generate as much as a 1 million pounds of cured and uncured carbon fiber prepreg waste each year from Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 XWB production. In Washington state alone, 96 composites companies produce 2 million pounds of production waste carbon fiber each year that is sent to a landfill. According to the DOE, carbon fiber has a potential market value of $50 million if it can be reused and recycled.