Growth of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastics has spurred a new recycling center in Washington State, where Boeing Co. is a huge consumer of the composites.
Port Angeles, Wash., officials broke ground on the Composite Recycling Technology Center on Sept. 21. The center will develop new products from scrap uncured carbon fiber composite prepreg. Tennis rackets and other sports and recreational goods could be candidates for reusing the scrap, said Jennifer States, director of business development for the Port of Port Angeles in a phone interview.
The recycled material won't be used for aerospace structural components, she stressed.
Nearby, four days after the center's groundbreaking, Toray Composites (America) Inc. commemorated a major expansion of its Washington prepreg plant to meet rising demand for composites in aerospace markets.
“There are 2 million pounds of carbon fiber prepreg disposed of per year in Washington,” States said. Most of it is landfilled. Globally there are about nine operations that recycle carbon fibers from composites but the new center will focus initially on making products from uncured prepregs, she explained.
The estimated resale value of the scrap would amount to about $90 million, or about $45 a pound, she estimated. Virgin carbon fiber prepreg sells for as much as $65 to $100 per pound. The lower price of recycled prepreg should convince more companies to try using the material, States believes.
States said the 25,000-square-foot center will start on a smaller scale than the amount of scrap available because of limited cold storage space required to keep the uncured prepreg fresh. The whole Washington aerospace community will be involved in the center, she added. Prominent sources of the uncured prepreg include aircraft giant Boeing, and materials suppliers like Toray Composites, Janicki Industries Inc. and Zodiac Aerospace SA. The center could eventually source uncured carbon fiber prepreg from companies outside the state.
Toray recently completed a multimillion dollar expansion of its carbon fiber prepreg plant in Pierce County, Wash. Toray's plant is adjacent to Boeing's composites manufacturing operation. The Toray plant also supplies aerospace factories outside Washington and has recently announced new orders with Bell Helicopter and Embraer SA. The Toray operation employs more than 400 and also supplies prepreg for sports and industrial applications.
Boeing is a big customer of carbon fiber composites for its 777 and 787 commercial jets. In one model, the 777-9X, carbon fiber composites make it possible to fold the 12-foot long wing tips. With the tips folded when the jet is on the ground, the large aircraft can fit existing airport facilities. Boeing makes composite wings in a massive factory in Everett, Wash., where it runs three autoclaves that are 120 feet long. Other aircraft OEMs also use carbon fiber/plastic composites extensively.
Carbon fiber composites have a healthy outlook based on their replacing other materials to save weight on aircraft. As well, OEMs are producing more aircraft at high rates to replace aging machines and to accommodate overall growth in the travel industry. Boeing estimates some 36,770 new airplanes will be built in the 2014-2033 time frame.
“As the value of carbon fiber composites continues to transform transportation systems through lightweighting and increased efficiency, we have a responsibility to continually look at the full lifecycle of our products,” stated Tim Kirk, vice president of Toray Composites (America) at the recycling center's groundbreaking ceremony.
The new center also will house Peninsula College's Advanced Manufacturing — Composite Technology training program.
Local, state and federal governments are kicking in $4 million in funding to get the non-profit center established.