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Carbon Composite Recycling Turns from Dream to Reality

30 April 2006

Milled Carbon Ltd, a recycling specialist, has a new process which turns rejected carbon parts into a valuable reusable material.

Since late 2003, Milled Carbon has been developing a system which recycles cured and un-cured carbon fibre composites. Despite retaining considerable residual value, carbon fibre composite waste has, historically, been dumped in landfill sites or incinerated at considerable expense to the environment and companies concerned. Now, Milled Carbon has put in place the facilities to recycle cured parts up to 2m wide and 250mm high to a current thickness of 25mm and uncured material in the form of manufacturing off-cuts or un-used rolls of pre-impregnated material are processed in a similar fashion.

Working with several major composites manufacturers who are interested in disposal and recycling of this previously problematic material, Milled Carbon has designed its method - a simple treatment of the composites by pyrolysis - to remove any resin or binder from the carbon. The result is a material which is only slightly lower in properties than virgin carbon fibre and can be used to make new products.

Milled Carbon is developing a range of end uses for its recyclate. They say that a healthy market for the material looks sure to grow, with interest already being shown by injection moulders and for use in non-woven materials. Milled Carbon is also working with several UK universities, including Dr Steve Pickering of Nottingham University, to improve the recycling process.

John Davidson, Managing Director of Milled Carbon, commented: ""Our aim is to solve the environmentally problematic disposal of waste carbon fibre composites, while also growing our business by supplying carbon fibres to customers that don’t need the stringent physical properties of virgin material. We’re getting a lot of enquiries from companies that want to use the recyclate for applications where its strength, weight, durability and electrical properties are of interest. We’re also developing forms of the recycled fibres where, traditionally, virgin carbon fibres have always been used.”

Bill Carberry, aircraft and composite recycling project manager at Boeing, said: “Recycling is good for the environment and good for business. Boeing supports efforts like this one that will foster environmentally sound practices. This new carbon fibre recovery technology is a great step forward.”