Recycled carbon fiber to be featured in 125-mile kayak race

A professor at the University of Birmingham (UK) is manufacturing a kayak using recycled carbon fiber composites and will compete in the International Canoe Race.

Dr. Gary Leeke, a professor in the department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Birmingham (Birmingham, UK), is leading a team of scientists and engineers to make a kayak out of recycled carbon fiber-reinforced composite materials, which is believed to be a world's first.

Leeke says that he is so confident in the processes of creating the material, he will race in the kayak 125 miles non-stop in the International Canoe Race with his teammate Professor Liam Grover.

The International Canoe Race starts in Devizes, Wiltshire, UK, finishing just downstream of Westminster Bridge in central London, opposite the Houses of Parliament. The race, which has 77 portages, is a test of planning, skill and physical and mental stamina and is a major event on the UK sporting calendar.

The team at the University of Birmingham has developed a technique using solvolysis to recycle carbon fiber composites. They have created a material from recycled composites, which is as strong as the original, unmodified material, Leeke says.

Leeke says, “The kayak is only 2-3 mm thick. The material is light, extremely strong and hardwearing. It can be used in a huge number of applications as well as high-performance sporting goods as demonstrated by our kayak. We are excited to be putting the material to the test with the creation of the kayak. By racing it myself, with my teammate Liam, we will know first hand how suitable the material is.”

The material has been created to illustrate that composites can be recycled and used in standard composites fabrication processes. Leeke notes that there is a large need to recycled composites as the majority of composites waste is currently sent to landfill. This is becoming an increasing burden on the environment and it is expected that by 2025 it will be illegal to send composites to landfill in the UK.

Dr Gary Leeke is part of a project called EXHUME which develops new and resource-efficient recycling and re-manufacturing processes with industry. EXHUME is a partnership between the Universities of Birmingham, Cranfield, Exeter and Manchester and is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Interview with Leeke here: