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Recycled Carbon Fibers Save Money

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Beth Stackpole
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What's the macro trend?
Beth Stackpole   1/18/2012 7:57:29 AM
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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?

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: What's the macro trend?
Ann R. Thryft   1/18/2012 11:56:02 AM
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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. 


naperlou
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Starting Early
naperlou   1/18/2012 9:36:23 AM
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It seems that the carbon fiber industry is starting earlier than most in working or recycling their products.  This is a good trend.  What makes us more efficient makes us better off.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Starting Early
Ann R. Thryft   1/19/2012 12:29:39 PM
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naperlou, I agree. As an industry, CFRP producers and even large users such as Boeing are making an effort to deal with the results of the anticipated increasing volumes and all that material entering the waste stream down the line. I haven't seen this yet in other materials classes, although I'm certainly looking for indications. Also, notice that this is occurring in Europe, not the US. They are way ahead of us in so many regards when it comes to green engineering and environmental considerations.


Rob Spiegel
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What's the source of the carbon fibers
Rob Spiegel   1/18/2012 10:08:24 AM
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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?


Ann R. Thryft
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Re: What's the source of the carbon fibers
Ann R. Thryft   1/18/2012 12:08:34 PM
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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.


Rob Spiegel
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Re: What's the source of the carbon fibers
Rob Spiegel   1/18/2012 12:11:53 PM
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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.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: What's the source of the carbon fibers
Ann R. Thryft   1/18/2012 12:23:51 PM
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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.


Alexander Wolfe
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Re: What's the source of the carbon fibers
Alexander Wolfe   1/18/2012 5:41:24 PM
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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.

Charles Murray
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Re: What's the source of the carbon fibers
Charles Murray   1/18/2012 9:42:16 PM
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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?

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: What's the source of the carbon fibers
Ann R. Thryft   1/19/2012 12:47:28 PM
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Chuck, the end-apps mentioned that are relevant to our audience seem to cluster around automotive, aerospace, and industrial markets, the markets served by the commercial members of the consortium. The demonstrator products include press-molded automotive parts. The original materials produced that can then be fashioned into products, however, vary widely: yarns, tapes, textiles and other fabrics, and sheets.


Jerry dycus
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Re: What's the source of the carbon fibers
Jerry dycus   1/19/2012 8:20:46 PM
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        This sounds like hype to me.  If you only have 50% strength then even common e glass would be 60% stronger at less cost.  Remember CF only has a 10% advantage over S glass virgin.  I seriously doubt they can recycle CF without damaging it. Many times CF doesn't meet spec having lost 4 rudders on million $ racing sailboats during a stormy Fasnet race because of that.

        Thinking about it how would they wet out the CF with PET?  Certainly couldn't do long sheets of CF fabric. Hard enough even with very thin resins, much less PET.  If the fibers are under 1/2" long then the CF advantage is gone, no better than FG at much lower prices.

     Next I'd bet the strength is coming from the PET far more than the damaged CF.

       Just what are you saving with recycling CF, Carbon?   Far better would be burying it as stored C.  The resins are worthwhile to recycle into HC's feedstocks.

       Could be a great product if priced right, under $1.50/lb.  If you need strength/weight then FG is the way to go at that price even.

 

Gordon Bishop
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Re: What's the source of the carbon fibers
Gordon Bishop   1/20/2012 9:53:08 AM
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Hi all - I'm part of the team that has developed this method and material. Thanks for the postive comments - I thought that I'd address a couple of points:

Hype? Not at all. The source is recovered virgin fibre and the fibres are a couple of inches long. I can understand peoples' scepticism over the ability to recover the material without damage, but the guys working on that have done an amazing job. As for impregrating with PET, techniques already exist for doing that with continuous virgin CF - we simply use similar techniques.

The result is that the moulded parts have around 90% of the stiffness of a part moulded with virgin materials, and around 50% of the strength. Sure, that will limit some applications where part design is dominated by strength (eg pressure vessels), but in fact most parts are designed for stiffness and such a reduction in strength will not be a limiting factor in many cases.

Both energy consumption and costs are lower with the recovery technique compared to virgin material. The material has the same safety characteristics as virin carbon fibre.

We see applications in a range of industrial sectors, particularly in auto and aero, and we are working with a number of OEMs.

Jerry dycus
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Re: What's the source of the carbon fibers
Jerry dycus   1/20/2012 10:27:35 AM
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  Hi Gordon, Thanks for answering.

Hi all - I'm part of the team that has developed this method and material. Thanks for the postive comments - I thought that I'd address a couple of points:

Hype? Not at all. The source is recovered virgin fibre and the fibres are a couple of inches long. I can understand peoples' scepticism over the ability o recover the material without damage, but the guys working on that have done an amazing job. As for impregrating with PET, techniques already exit for doing that with continuous virgin CF - we simply use similar techniques.


--------------------  If the fibers are 2" long they are damaged. CF gets it's advantage of long fibers inline with each other.  How are your fibers laid out? Matt or inline?  

---------------------  You compare to CF which we who build don't. Instead we compare to others on the market, in this case would be glass fibers. How does your product stand compared to that?  It's strength/$ we look for.  What is your $/lb target?

The result is that the moulded parts have around 90% of the stiffness of a part moulding with virgin materials, and around 50% of the strength. Sure, that will limit some applications where part design is dominated by strength (eg pressul vessels), but in fact most parts are designed for stiffness and such a reduction in strength will not be a limiting factor in many cases.


-------------------  Those specs puts it with many other materials costing far less than CF. Can you met that pricepoint?

Both energy consumption and costs are lower with the recovery technique compared to virgin material. The material has the same safety characteristics as virin carbon fibre.


-------------------  Again you compare to a strawman, virgin CF, instead of your real competition of many other materials. Great for marketing but engineers, designers look at specs and test, then compare based on cost.

We see applications in a range of industrial sectors, particularly in auto and aero sectors, and we are working with a number of OEMs.


-----------------   Great, waiting to see it and it's price.

------------------ Can it be made in sheets and how thin? What glues/etc do you use to attach it?  I'm always looking for better materials. They just need to be better, reasonable cost.


Gordon Bishop
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Re: What's the source of the carbon fibers
Gordon Bishop   1/20/2012 11:04:08 AM
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The fibres are aligned. With a 2" length you would expect slightly lower performance than is acheivable with continuous fibres. That's what we get.

The material is expected to be adopted by those who currently use carbon fibre, in applications that are stiffness-driven. From initial calculations it's likely to be at a should be at a lower price point than the equivalent virgin material, although not as little as half the price. We don't expect it to be able to compete with glass, and we're not targetting that.

 

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: What's the source of the carbon fibers
Ann R. Thryft   1/20/2012 12:45:46 PM
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Gordon, thanks for addressing the comments in detail.

Regarding comparisons and competition, there's only so much room in each of these posts we do. I reported on the comparison with virgin CF because that's the metric I hear about all the time and it's a simple and obvious one: how does the recycled material compare to the virgin version? That gives us an idea of its performance. And as Gordon points out, CF is also what the users in this market use. Readers are welcome to do their own research and make detailed comparisons with other types of materials. 

Regarding recycling: the whole point of recycling is, well, recycling instead of going to landfills. The performance characteristics of this carbon fiber material are better than previous attempts, possibly because they are mixed with recycled PET. In any case, if Boeing and others in industries that are about to start using large amounts of CFR composites are concerned enough to plunk money into recycling research, that sounds to me like it's a major problem, and that it's one they think they have a chance of solving. 


Jerry dycus
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Re: What's the source of the carbon fibers
Jerry dycus   1/20/2012 11:17:10 PM
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Ann, Gordon and All,

  You can compare to whatever you want to but engineers are going with specs, costs of all the competition, not just what the maker wants to be compared with. A business that ignores this won't last long.  Those who use CF do so because they need the specs they pay dearly for or just want to claim CF hype.

If one uses it because it has CF, it's hype as FG/PET would be cheaper, better. Hype is fine as most US products are sold with it. But it's still hype. others call it fashion.

Recycling is only good if it can be done cost effectively. CF just isn't going to be cost effectively recycled when far cheaper FG is stronger, leaving only the hype market.

 Tell me an aircraft designer is going to use heavier recycled CF than lighter, stronger, cheaper FG/PET?  Would you pay more for less?

OT  A generator can easily be sound proofed in a pit or small shed easily.

j-allen
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Safety concerns
j-allen   1/19/2012 9:37:40 AM
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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.

dsbrantjr
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Re: Safety concerns
dsbrantjr   1/19/2012 9:54:34 AM
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A third concern for the aerosolized carbon fibers would be the possibility of explosion sparked by static discharge.  Let's not forget the lessons learned from the flour mill explosions of the 1940's and 1950's.

j-allen
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Re: Safety concerns
j-allen   1/19/2012 10:36:12 AM
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Given that carbon is combustible a dense aerosol could ignite and explode in the same way as flour or grain dust.  I would hope that both economics (the stuff is too valuable to let it blow away) as well as good industrial practice would prevent such conditions.

William K.
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Recycled carbon fibers and safety?
William K.   1/19/2012 5:23:57 PM
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Good Grief! The first thing that pops up when somebody talks about a new product or process, somebody has to start jabbering about hazards and safety. Almost any process can be done in an unsafe manner, but most processes run better and more consistently when they are done in a controlled and stable manner, rather than uncontrolled or unstable. 

While many types of dust are combustable, graphite is fairly stable. In fact it is difficult to get it to burn. Soot is a different story, but it is also a different form of carbon. Letting any form of dust escape from a process will reduce the yeild, so the smart operators will avoid dust emissions. The fact is that breathing almost any kind of dust is harmful to some degree, and so the process would naturally be designed to avoid dust emissions. 

So it is really a bit prematuyre to be talking about safety concerns.

A bigger concern is energy efficiency, does it take less energy to recycle than to use raw materials? That would be the main concern, and what might limit the adoption of the process.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Recycled carbon fibers and safety?
Ann R. Thryft   1/20/2012 12:38:03 PM
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I was also a little surprised to see the concerns about safety among commenters. I thought safety regulations are pretty well established in industrial environments, so that would not be much of a concern. IN any case, it's not the first critique I thought of nor would I think it's the most crucial.


Dave Palmer
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Re: Recycled carbon fibers and safety?
Dave Palmer   1/20/2012 6:22:56 PM
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Inhalation risks associated with carbon fibers were studied back in the late '80s and early '90s (here is a link to a Department of Defense study).  The conclusion seemed to be that there were no particular health risks, other than the normal risks associated with any kind of airborne particulates.  The fibers are too big to be respirable, meaning they are not deposited in the lungs.

On the other hand, there is some evidence that inhalation of carbon nanotubes can be harmful.  This is still being studied.

Buckley
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Great work, but mislead
Buckley   1/23/2012 6:56:54 AM
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While this is nice work, it doesnt really solve any problems. This will never be an approprate treatment for post consumer waste. How do you think you will ever deal with the volumes of varied mixed materials components? 

This is merely a solution for some production waste where you can (to an extent) control what type of fibres are used in the final material. Prodcution processes are getting more efficient and are creating less waste. As a result there will be less avaialable waste for you to use in such a product. 

Material variability and continuity of supply. who is going to design a product around recycled fibres. You cannot guarentee the quality or a duration of supply of the same quality. The availability of materials is based on someones waste. Too risky I'm affraid. Finally cost. If yu consider the separation costs transport, recovery, treatment of related waste overheads, this makes recycled carbon fibres are already expensive, now you take them create a yarn and weave them too. All adding aditional cost which will bring you up close to virgin cost. Furthermore, today CF waste is waste and has no value. If it starts to be a potential raw material, it gains a value. At this point you recyclers will have to pay for it further increasing your material costs. Going to have to try hard to get anyone to touch these Im afraid. 

Finally, have you thought of the future? there is so much research going on to reduce the cost of virgin carbon fibres. I think by the time you guys are ready to offer something, there will already be cheaper CF around. Then who will you sell it to?

Also this is not recycling, its downcycling.

I cant see, how this is going to work long term, I hope someone has done their sums as to me it looks like a dead duck.

 

 

Ann R. Thryft
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Recycled plastics are in use
Ann R. Thryft   1/30/2012 12:00:18 PM
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Recycled plastics of various kinds are in fact out there and are, in fact, being used. The whole industry hardly exists yet because it's in its infancy, volumes are quite low and thus it's relatively invisible. Bioplastics, another way of making sustainable plastics, is also pretty new, but much farther along. Most materials in bioplastics started out replacing low-end single-use consumer goods, not high-end engineering materials, and volumes of the latter are still low, but rising. I suspect something like that  might happen with recycled plastics. Yet at least one firm, Axion, has figured out how to make recycled plastics strong enough to build bridges that are made for Army tanks:

http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=237384

And Boeing has sunk money into research on recycling CFRPs:

http://www.designnews.com/document.asp?doc_id=235280

So as far as I'm concerned, the jury is still out.


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