Researchers at the University of Sydney in Australia have developed a new method they say will allow the economically feasible recycling of carbon fiber manufactured parts.
Due to its reduced weight and increased strength, carbon-reinforced fiber polymer (CRFP) technology is making an ever-growing impact on modern aircraft construction, from fuselages to turbine blades, but how to dispose of those parts has been a problem. Previously they had been largely ground up and incinerated, or simply buried in landfills. But, according to scientists at the university’s school of civil engineering, their two-phased process involving pyrolysis and oxidation can recycle the material while maintaining 90 percent of its considerable strength.
“Until now, it has been impossible to continuously recycle products made of carbon fibers,” said lead researcher Dr. Ali Hadigheh. “Given that most recycling involves shredding, cutting, or grinding, fibers are worn out, decreasing a product’s viability. This presents a huge challenge and threat to our environment as it has led to the production of virgin carbon fiber, which contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions.” According to a study, global CFRP production will top 18 million tonnes by 2025.
The newly-developed method uses precisely regulated heat and time to elicit a chemical reaction in the material, breaking down the polymer matrix and allowing the recovery of the intact carbon fibers.