Working with Boeing to recycle carbon fibre composites from aircraft


In the area of carbon fibre recycling, there’s
more research happening at the University of Nottingham than at any other university
in the UK. The aim of this research that we are doing
is to recycle carbon fibre composite material. Carbon fibre is a very valuable material and
it’s used in applications where you want a material that’s very strong and very light.
So we developed this recycling process here, which is based on a fluidised bed. So the
idea is you would take a scrap, a scrap component made of carbon fibre, part of a Formula 1
car body or an aircraft wing or something like that, and you chop it up into small pieces,
and you put the small pieces in this feed hopper and they’re fed through into this fluidised
bed. Now this fluidised bed is where the recycling operation takes place. And what we’re trying
to do is to remove the, the polymer, the plastic, the epoxy resin and leave the carbon fibres
behind. And it’s those carbon fibres we want to recycle and reuse, because the strength
is in those carbon fibres. We’re, in particular, at the moment, we’re working, we’re doing
a lot of collaboration with Boeing, in the aircraft industry, and looking at the materials, the
materials that they’re using in their current aircraft. Their new aircraft, the Boeing 787 – the Dreamliner,
50 percent of that, the weight, empty weight of that aircraft is carbon fibre composites.
So it’s a very real problem for them to understand what they can do with these aircraft at the
end of their life. The other problem they’ve got is that, during the manufacturing process
they are using a lot more carbon fibre and there is a small amount of waste arising during
the manufacture, and they need to be able to reuse and recycle that material. So that’s why we’re working with Boeing in this area at the moment. We wouldn’t be recycling aircraft wings back
into new aircraft wings, we probably, we’d take aircraft wings and recycle them back
into non-structural components inside the aircraft or some other component that’s used
during the manufacturing process. This is a demonstration component that we
made just a few months ago, which is a seat-back for an aircraft, for an aircraft seat, so
this… Round the outside there’s a tube, there’s a tubular structure here which is
made of new carbon fibre, but the panel in the middle here has been made with recycled
carbon fibre. And we’ve attempted to take the fluffy carbon fibres from the recycling
process. We’ve put them through an alignment process and then we’ve moulded them into this,
this thin panel here that is used on the seat-back. And we’ve been quite successful with this.
So we are sort of getting towards closing the loop from taking material from an aircraft,
we use scrap material from aircraft manufacturing and we’ve demonstrated a component that could
go back into, into an aircraft.

2 Replies to “Working with Boeing to recycle carbon fibre composites from aircraft”

  1. Fantastic to see this kind of research due to the large number of CFRP aircraft entering service and therefore exiting service over the next 50 years.

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