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What Problem We are Solving

Carbon fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP) composites are expensive, highly-engineered structural materials that offer many advantages over traditional structural metals such as aluminum or steel. Due to their light weight and high strength, they are being increasingly used in aerospace and automobile manufacturing due to the fuel efficiencies it affords, but there is no efficient method to recycle this material at the end of its service life. Don't believe us? Check out the Mojave Boneyard pictured in our banner - aircraft frames increasingly contain CFRPs which we do not know how to process when we are done using them, so we park them in the desert! Adding to the problem is how inefficient CFRP manufacturing is - up to 30% of the purchased product is scrapped during production! This adds up to a lot of expensive waste that we cannot effectively handle. 

Current recycling strategies use extreme temperatures (up to 800°C) to destroy the polymer binding, leaving the carbon fibers to be collected. Although effective, this process often requires shredding the fibers and risks damaging them, condemning them to lower-quality applications later on. It also fails to recover any of the polymer, instead converting it into harmful greenhouse gasses. The curing chemistry of the polymer is what binds this material together, so we believe a chemical perspective should be taken when considering how to disassemble it!

ClosedComposites is developing metal catalysts that can use oxygen from air to specifically undo the key bonds formed during the curing process. Through the power of catalysis, we can employ milder reaction conditions (temperatures < 250°C) and recover carbon fibers that remain in pristine condition for future applications and organic compounds that we can recycle to cast future resins. We assert that a closed recycling loop for these amazing materials is achievable.

About Us

ClosedComposites is a venture created by USC students Carlos Navarro, Katelyn Michael, Dr. Yijia Ma, and their advisor Travis Williams. 
ClosedComposites was created because we identified a sustainability issue that we believe we have the chemical and engineering expertise to solve. We apply a dual catalyst system based on abundant metals to catalytically disassemble CFRPs and accrue the maximum amount of value from the abundance of CFRP production scrap and products that exist. From this "waste", we offer the consumer the ability to recover high quality recycled carbon fibers for future applications, reducing the need for purchasing expensive virgin fibers, and helping them reduce their environmental footprint. Derivatized polymer monomers can be easily isolated from the reaction solution and converted to bisphenol A, a common feedstock chemical for these epoxy resins. 

Venture Highlights

Our research has led us to an inexpensive, dual metal catalyst system that can use oxygen from air to recycle carbon fiber reinforced polymer composites. When we apply our recycling conditions to mildly crosslinked composite systems, we find that carbon fibers are unaffected by our reaction conditions and we can recover organic molecules that we can use to regenerate the epoxy monomer used! To our knowledge, this is the first report of such selectivity in recycling these resin systems. We have since patented our catalyst system and continue to iteratively improve and understand the chemistry at hand. 

Business Model

Our business provides a service that no one else can do: chemically recycle amine-cured carbon fiber reinforced polymer composites. As we improve and better understand this chemistry, we aim to license this technology to established carbon fiber companies such as ELG or manufacturers that utilize CFRPs extensively.

The demand for our technology will always be present if CFRPs are in demand, and current data shows that CFRPs will be around for a while: Carbon Composites reports the global CFRP turnover in 2016 to be $13.23 billion dollars and is expected to grow 10-13% for following years. Considering that up to 30% of purchased CFRP material is cut as scrap during production, there will be a large market for recycling CFRP production waste and the final product at the end of its service life for decades to come.

Competitive Advantage

Thirty years of research on composites recycling has not yielded a viable solution to this up-and-coming sustainability issue, but our two years of research on this issue has led to an air-based recycling strategy. Our interdisciplinary research team composed of chemists and engineers tackles this problem through a chemical perspective because it is the chemistry of the polymer that holds this material together! As we continue to study this material, we will further improve and build upon our knowledge to develop efficient catalysts for recycling these composites. 

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Networking

We are open to meeting up to grab a coffee, or just to chat. We would really enjoy your feedback and insight into our venture and would be happy to discuss anything that you are currently working on to see if we can be of service!

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Engineering
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