Boeing, Seattle, and ELG Carbon Fibre (ELG), Coseley, United Kingdom, entered into a partnership to recycle excess aerospace-grade composite material, which will be used by other companies to make products such as electronic accessories and automotive equipment. According to an ELG Carbon Fibre news release, the agreement covers excess carbon fiber from 11 Boeing airplane manufacturing sites and will reduce solid waste by more than 1 million pounds per year.
Carbon-fiber reinforced material is strong and lightweight, making it attractive for a variety of uses, including in building the 787 Dreamliner and 777x airplane, ELG Carbon Fibre reports.
According to an ELG Carbon Fibre news release, Boeing has been working for several years to create an economically viable carbon fiber reuse industry. The company improved its production methods to minimize excess and develop a model for collecting scrap material. However, technical barriers remained in the way of repurposing material that had already been “cured” or prepped for use in the airplane manufacturing process. ELG reports that it developed a proprietary method to recycle these “cured” composites so they do not need to be thrown out.
“Recycling cured carbon fiber was not possible just a few years ago,” says Tia Benson Tolle, Boeing Materials & Fabrication director for product strategy and future airplane development, in a news release. “We are excited to collaborate with ELG and leverage innovative recycling methods to work toward a vision where no composite scrap will be sent to landfills.”
Boeing and ELG conducted a pilot project where they recycled excess material from Boeing’s Composite Wing Center, Everett, Washington, where massive wings for the 777x airplane are made. In the pilot, ELG put the excess materials through treatment in a furnace, which vaporizes the resin that holds the carbon fiber layers together and leaves behind clean material. Over the course of 18 months, the companies saved 1.5 million pounds of carbon fiber, which was cleaned and sold to companies in the electronics and ground transportation industries.
“Security of supply is extremely important when considering using these materials in long-term automotive and electronic projects,” says Frazer Barnes, managing director of ELG Carbon Fibre, in a news release. “This agreement gives us the ability to provide that assurance, which gives our customers the confidence to use recycled materials.”
With the success of the pilot project, Boeing says the new agreement is likely to save a majority of the excess composite material from its 11 sites, which will support the company’s goal to reduce solid waste from going to landfills by 20 percent by 2025. Boeing and ELG are considering expanding the agreement to include excess material from three additional Boeing sites in Canada, China and Malaysia.
As a result of the partnership, ELG estimates the number of its employees will nearly triple from 39 employees in 2016 to an expected 112 employees by the end of 2019 as the recycling market continues to expand.