University research paves way for fiber and resin matrix recycling

A University of Colorado spinoff has developed a technology that allows cured composites to be made malleable and reformed for re-use.

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University of Colorado Boulder (CU-Boulder) reported on Feb. 15 that a team of researchers at the school has developed a technology through which the fibers and the resin matrix in a composite part can be fully recycled. 

Wei Zhang, CU-Boulder associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and several colleagues published the findings online in the journal Advanced Materials. “We can achieve complete recyclability” of both the resin matrix and the carbon fiber, Zhang says. The process works, he says, by soaking the composite part in an "organic solution" at room temperature. The solution renders the composite malleable and thus reformable into another shape. Cure of the new shape, says Zhang, takes about 60 seconds. 

Philip Taynton, who earned his doctorate in Zhang’s laboratory last year, is the lead author of the paper and co-founder of a start-up company, Mallinda, working to bring the novel composite to market. “It’s really energy-efficient and eco-friendly,” Taynton says. “We reuse all of the stuff that we recycle, that we reclaim. There’s nothing we have to throw away.” Taynton and Zhang have also discovered a way to make hard but malleable plastics that can be refashioned into new equally strong plastic using just heat or water.

The university’s Technology Transfer Office has filed a U.S. patent application for the technology. Mallinda LLC, which Zhang and Taynton co-founded with CU-Boulder alumnus Chris Kaffer, has gotten $150,000 in support from a National Science Foundation (NSF) Small Business Innovative Research Grant. The university and Mallinda have signed an exclusive licensing agreement.

The company’s first marketing target is sporting gear such as shin guards. “You can mold it directly to your body, but it will take whatever impact you can throw at it,” Taynton says.

Co-authors on the paper are Chengpu Zhu, Samuel Loob and Yinghua Jin at CU-Boulder; Huagang Ni at Zhejiang Sci-Tech University in Hangzhou, China; and Kai Yu and H. Jerry Qi at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the Colorado Advanced Industries Accelerator Grant program. 

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