Boeing has extended its relationship with UK composite specialist ELG Carbon Fibre to allow waste material from the airframer’s production to be routinely recycled.
The US manufacturer says that excess carbonfibre from 11 production sites will be processed for re-use by other industry sectors, for example, to make laptop cases and car parts.
Boeing intends to recycle more than 450t of carbonfibre a year and says that the partnership with ELG is “the first of its kind” in the aerospace sector.
The two partners have conducted an 18-month trial, during which around 172t of carbonfibre from Boeing's composite wing centre in Everett, near Seattle, was recycled and handed on to users in other sectors.
Boeing says that it had been working for several years on ways of recycling carbonfibre in an “economically viable” manner, and that it has improved its production methods to reduce the amount of waste material generated.
“[But] recycling cured carbonfibre was not possible just a few years ago,” states materials and fabrication director for product strategy and future airplane development Tia Benson Tolle.
ELG has developed a process during which carbonfibre structures are chopped up – to create a consistent size of particle – and then heated in a furnace to burn off the resin within the material.
The recycler’s managing director, Frazer Barnes, foresees that the partnership with Boeing with provide certainty for the supply of carbonfibre feedstock in order to establish a viable recycling business.
“Security of supply is extremely important when considering using these materials in long-term automotive and electronic projects,” Barnes states.
Boeing has a target of reducing by 20% the amount of solid waste going to landfill by 2025, and is considering adding three production sites in Canada, China and Malaysia to the partnership scheme with ELG.
Story updated on 5 December to note that 172t of carbonfibre were recycled in 18 months, reflecting revised information provided by Boeing.