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.