Recycling carbon fiber back into the automobile

There is some hope on the near horizon for reclaiming carbon fibers from the estimated 40 to 60 percent scrap volume that results from the manufacture of automotive CFRP.

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There is some hope on the near horizon for reclaiming carbon fibers from the estimated 40 to 60 percent scrap volume that results from the manufacture of automotive CFRP.

MIT-RCF (Lake City, S.C.) is currently the world leader in reclaiming carbon fibers and converting them into nonwoven rolled goods, molding compounds and resin transfer molding (RTM) preforms that can be put back into automobiles. One of the company’s most prominent sucesses has been a demonstration lower plenum for the Chevrolet Corvette under the U.S. Department of Energy’s Small Business Phase III Xlerator program using its trademarked 3-DEP infusion molding process. MIT-RCF reports that it is currently supplying recycled fiber preforms for final validation testing to a major OEM for one of its higher-end passengers cars. This program is expected to go into full commercial production by mid-2014.

Using reclaimed carbon fiber will help automotive manufacturers get a lot more mileage out of their material purchases, and it is expected to increase demand for molding smaller parts that would otherwise be made from FRP, natural fiber composites and hybrids. For vehicles priced less than $120,000 with production volumes greater than 20,000 units per year, the inclusion of recycled carbon fibers will be critical to meeting the economic performance required to make money from automobile sales. Further, the energy it takes to reclaim carbon fibers is small compared to that required during virgin fiber production. Added to a reduced need for petroleum-based feedstocks, recycled carbon fiber adds an extra green dimension to CFRP solutions.

 

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