Carbon-fiber composites are becoming widely accepted in many forms of structural manufacturing, used in everything from airframes to wind turbine blades and cars, but disposing of them has been a problem and, with some aircraft now including more than 50 percent of their weight as composites, one that will grow rapidly over the coming years.
Such components are usually shredded and burned or landfilled when they reach end-of-life, according to Belgium-based Aerocircular, which specializes in the dismantling and recycling of aircraft. But the company is now preparing to address the challenge that will be faced when carbon-fiber intensive structures reach the end of their lives, partnering with the UK’s ELG Carbon Fibre to develop more viable methods to reclaim the materials for recycling. ELG, which established the world’s first carbon-fiber recycling plant in the UK, has gained experience helping manufacturers and Tier 1 suppliers recycle waste material from their production processes.
“The cooperation with ELG will allow a robust economically viable recycling flow with impact on industrial scale,” said Stein Janssens, Aerocircular’s director of research and development. “Doing so, every ton of carbon-fiber from the aircraft we process to new material saves 20 tons of global warming potential CO2 at only one-tenth of the energy required compared to producing virgin carbon-fiber.”