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How to recycle 100% of carbon fibres

United States – The Georgia Institute of Technology has announced a major breakthrough; a new carbon fibre recycling process that could recycle virtually 100% of the materials in certain types of thermoset carbon fibre.

The new method involves soaking the composites in an alcohol solvent, which slowly dissolves the epoxy that binds and gives shape to the carbon fibres, the research team explains. Once dissolved, the carbon fibres and the epoxy can be separated and used in new applications.

The novel process is ‘simple and straightforward’ and could have ‘a lot of immediate industrial applications with lots economical and environment benefits’, comments Kai Yu, a postdoctoral researcher in The George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech.

Professor Jerry Qi explains that the biggest stumbling block for recyclers has to do with the polymer matrix. ‘It is usually cross-linked, so you can’t just melt it,’ he notes. This makes it very difficult to reclaim the embedded carbon fibres, which he says are more valuable to recycle. The full details of the study has been published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

Currently, the global market for carbon fibres is greater than 60 000 tonnes. It is estimated that this will surge to roughly 140 000 tonnes by 2020. Meanwhile, over 30% of the carbon fibre produced ends up as waste.

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