Attendees of the recently concluded Composites and Advanced Materials Expo (CAMX) heard a lot of great presentations during the December 12-14 gathering in Orlando. Among them was a December 13 education session focusing on composite recycling. The session highlighted the current state of recycling as well as where the industry hopes to go in the future.
Composites Manufacturing Magazine’s Melissa O’Leary wrote her observations from the session in a December 14 piece published by the magazine. She mentioned five crucial points relative to composites recycling brought up by the session speakers. Those five points are listed below along with additional comments.
1. Recycling Represents a Big Opportunity
The first point is that composite recycling represents a huge opportunity rather than just a bonus the industry should pursue if it can find the time. This point was emphasized by an industry expert who characterized composite recycling as the “biggest industry you’ve never heard [of]”, worth some $117 billion.
Session attendees heard how the recycling sector is ripe for composites. Moreover, there is some global movement towards requiring eventual recycling anyway. For example, EU regulations already in place will eventually mandate the recycling of 95% of all car parts.
2. A Focus on End-Of-Life Design
The second crucial point is that the composites industry needs to start making end-of-life design part of the process from the get go. For example, Utah-based Rock West Composites purchases carbon fiber prepregs direct from manufacturers for use in their own processes. Those manufacturers should already be considering how the parts made from their prepregs will be dealt with at the end-of-life point, so as to create products that are more easily recycled.
3. Recycling Markets Should Be Developed
Next, attendees were exposed to the idea that recycling markets should be aggressively expanded. They were told that recycling processes already exist, but that not enough recyclers are willing to get involved. A key component is figuring out what the end products of recycling can be used for. If a market for recycled material can be developed, more recyclers would invest in the processes necessary to handle composite materials.
Another crucial point here is that without markets, the composites industry is not really recycling. They are simply creating a new carbon fiber or fiber glass product that must eventually be disposed of because no one wants it.
4. Getting Away from the Idea of Waste
Session speakers made a point of suggesting the industry get away from looking at recyclable composite materials as waste. Composite material classified as waste is harder to sell and worth less on the open market. A better option would be to refer to it as ‘secondary use’. Such a designation would make it easier to develop markets and, at the same time, address some of the regulatory problems that come with processing waste materials.
5. Get on Board Now
Lastly, session attendees were made aware that composites recycling is already a reality among a limited number of companies that have taken the plunge. One of the speakers represents a company that is already recycling carbon fiber car parts after just a year in business. They are currently investigating ways to use the recycled material to make composite fabrics, tapes, and other materials that can be used to create new composite products.
It stands to reason that effective composite recycling would be a big boost to the industry. If we could find effective ways to process and reuse materials like carbon fiber, fiberglass and Kevlar, the demand for composites would go up and price points would come down.