The UK’s ELG Carbon Fibre is working in partnership with Boeing to recycle excess aerospace-grade composite material for reuse as products including electronic accessories.
The agreement is said to be the first of its kind for the aerospace industry and will cover excess carbon fibre from 11 Boeing airplane manufacturing sites. Boeing believes the partnership will save over one million pounds of solid waste a year.
Boeing said it is the largest user of aerospace-grade composites and has been working for several years to create an economically viable carbon fibre reuse industry.
To this end, Boeing has set about improving production methods to minimise excess – and has developed a model for collecting scrap material – but technical barriers have hindered the repurposing of material already cured or prepped for use in the airplane manufacturing process.
Coseley, West Midlands-based ELG believes it has solved the problem with its proprietary method to recycle cured composites.
“Recycling cured carbon fibre was not possible just a few years ago,” said Tia Benson Tolle, Boeing Materials & Fabrication director for Product Strategy & Future Airplane Development. “We are excited to collaborate with ELG and leverage innovative recycling methods to work toward a vision where no composite scrap will be sent to landfills.”
Boeing and ELG have conducted a pilot project where they recycled excess material from Boeing’s Composite Wing Center in Everett, Washington, where wings for the 777X airplane are made.
ELG put the excess materials through treatment in a furnace, which vaporises the resin that holds the carbon fibre layers together and leaves behind clean material. Over the course of 18 months, the companies are said to have saved 380,000 pounds of carbon fibre, which was cleaned and sold to companies in the electronics and ground transportation industries.
“Security of supply is extremely important when considering using these materials in long-term automotive and electronic projects,” said Frazer Barnes, managing director of ELG Carbon Fibre. “This agreement gives us the ability to provide that assurance, which gives our customers the confidence to use recycled materials.”
Based on the success of the pilot project, Boeing said the new agreement should save a majority of the excess composite material from its 11 sites, which will support the company’s ambition of reducing solid waste going to landfills by 20 percent by 2025.
Boeing and ELG are considering expanding the agreement to include excess material from three additional Boeing sites in Canada, China and Malaysia.