Ginder cites several advantages to utilizing this technology over other pyrolysis-based methods. For example, it completely removes all previous organics or other fillers so as not to inhibit the mechanical properties of the new product. The recovered fibers have a high aspect ratio which allows them to be used in high-value composite applications, such as 3D printer filament. Lastly,
the process is resin agnostic, so fiberglass from a broad array of applications can be recycled.

“The process can, in principle, achieve economies of scale not possible with more niche recovery techniques,” says Ginder.

The core equipment needed for this recycling process is already commercially available, and the technology has been rapidly scaled from “milligrams in 2019 to kilograms in 2020 and now metric tons this year,” says Ginder. He and his colleagues at Carbon Rivers plan to launch a full-scale facility in the next few years, commissioning a 20-ton per day reactor in 2022 and a 200-ton per day commercial fiberglass recycling facility in late 2024.

Ginder adds that the scalability of the process should make it attractive to many market segments, from marine to automotive. His goal is for composites to achieve a truly circular materials economy.

“Doing so creates a reliable, domestic materials supply chain that fuels local economic growth, creates jobs and reduces environmental impact by displacing the need for virgin materials,” he says.

Closing the Gap Between Design and Production

Project: Computer-Aided Process Planning Tool

School: University of South Carolina

Location: Columbia, S.C.

Principal Investigator: Ramy Harik

The chasm between designing a composite part and manufacturing it can be vast, especially for advanced composite parts fabricated with automated fiber placement (AFP). It’s the job of process planners to close that gap, but the task can be laborious. To remedy this, researchers at the University of South Carolina’s Ronald E. McNAIR Center for Aerospace Innovation and Research developed what they say is the first computer-aided process planning (CAPP) tool specifically for composites.

“Using a computer-aided process planning tool, we can help eliminate some of the consuming time and reduce some of the complexity that process planners undergo when they sit in front of a design and try to match the optimal manufacturing process,” says Ramy Harik, associate professor in mechanical engineering at the University of South Carolina and resident researcher at the McNAIR Center.

University researchers worked alongside a collaborative research team (CRT) funded by the NASA Advanced Composite Consortium (ACC). While developing the CAPP tool, Harik’s team surveyed CRT partners, including Boeing, Spirit and Collier Aerospace, to ascertain the most important process planning functions. Based on input from the survey, the researchers identified 16 important functions, many of which fell into two main categories – process optimization and tool path optimization.