Ann: It seems a lot of your recent posts have focused on pretty significant advances in the manufacturing and development of recycled materials, particularly on the composite front. I definitely applaud the effort and I'm wondering, is there any sort of macro trend driving this flurry of activity--a why now moment, perhaps?
Nice article, Ann. In recycling the carbon fibers, what products are they coming from? Are they from industrial products or consumer products? You mentioned that the volume of nonbiodegradable carbon-fiber-reinforced plastics is growing. Does this include products such as plastic water bottles?
Good question, Beth. Part of the timing has to do with me--I'm finding and noticing these announcements because I'm interested in them (and new to this beat).
But it looks like at least some of these trends were already in progress when I ran across the information. For example, the recycled bridge materials have been around for awhile, and I recently came across another vendor doing something similar to Axion's product. OTOH, recycling carbon fiber reinforced composites is pretty new. As to macro-trends, research has been going on for some time on recycling of plastics in general, and I think it's just taken as long as it's taken for the technologies to mature and able to deliver some results.
Thanks, Rob. The source is a mix, since they are carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Generally speaking, one could divide plastics into two different classes depending on their end apps' usage characteristics and how strong, tough and durable the materials must be: consumer goods, water bottles, packaging, etc., such as PET, vs what are called durables. Engineering-grade plastics are a subset of durables and CFRPs are durables.
Do these products need to be separated as they go into re-use or do they all get dumped in together? I'm also curious as to whether re-use projects such as the one you describe in this article and in other articles (Ford and bridges) are likely to make a dent in the growing mountain of these materials.
Yes, all materials must be separated before recycling. One of the big problems with composites is the adhesives involved, which make that difficult to do, and which make the result difficult to recycle with heat processes and still end up with enough strength and durability.
Regarding volumes, not anytime soon. But that's because these efforts are at their very beginning, so their growth rates could remain high for a long time before the volumes approached the current consumption rates.
This is great news which I think plays into the eventually lowering of costs of composites and thus the broadening out of applications from aerospace into automotive, where costs are more of a concern. I addressed some of this in this story, "CES: Mercedes Foresees Progress in Batteries, Composites," where an engineer there said he does indeed expect costs to come down as companies come up the learning curve. Another recent data point is that BMW is building a factory in Washington State to produce composites for its upcoming i5 and i8 hybrids.
The 50% reduction in tensile strength means that some applications are eliminated from possibility. Ann, do we know some of the target applications and do we know if some are already using these materials?
Before we get too carried away with carbon fibers we should pay attention to two risks. Both deal with carbon fiber aerosols. First, are they bad for you inhale? We don't want a repeat of the asbestos history where we used this wonderful fiber for decades before we recognized the health hazards.
The second is that unlike most other fibers (cellulose, asbestos, glass, etc.), carbon is conductive. If airborne carbon fibers drift into electronic equipment they can short the close-spaced connections and cause a lot of mischief.
Carbon fiber is wonderful stuff, but let's be careful.
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