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Your Next Car May Be Built With Recycled Carbon Fiber From Boeing

Dec. 07, 2018
3 min read
Your Next Car May Be Built With Recycled Carbon Fiber From Boeing
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Saab may have been born from jets, but your next automobile may actually be constructed using aerospace-grade composite material from nearly a dozen Boeing airplane manufacturing sites. Boeing has teamed up with ELG Carbon Fibre to recycle excess carbon fiber used at Boeing facilities.

In addition to reducing solid waste by more than one million pounds a year, it'll inject a dose of AvGeekery into everything from cars to laptop cases and beyond. Specifically, it'll be used by other companies "to make products such as electronic accessories and automotive equipment."

As the largest user of aerospace-grade composites from its commercial and defense programs, Boeing has been working for several years to create an economically viable carbon fiber reuse industry, but technical barriers stood in the way of repurposing material that had already been "cured" or prepped for use in the airplane manufacturing process. UK-based ELG developed a proprietary method to recycle "cured" composites so they don't have to be thrown out.

Boeing's Everett plant. (Photo courtesy of Boeing/Ken DeJarlais)

"Recycling cured carbon fiber was not possible just a few years ago," said Tia Benson Tolle, Boeing's materials and fabrication director for product strategy and future airplane development. "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."

To prove that the recycling method can be applied on a grand scale, Boeing and ELG conducted a pilot project where they recycled excess material from Boeing's Composite Wing Center in Everett, Wash., where the massive wings for the upcoming 777X airplane are made.

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 380,000 pounds of carbon fiber, which was cleaned and sold to companies in the electronics and ground transportation industries.

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Recycling carbon fiber. (Photo courtesy of ELG Carbon Fibre)

Boeing says the new agreement should save a majority of the excess composite material from its 11 sites, which will support the company's goal to reduce solid waste going to landfills 20% by 2025. Boeing and ELG are considering expanding the agreement to include excess material from three additional Boeing sites in Canada, China and Malaysia.

There's one other nifty anecdote as a result of this: Due to this partnership alone, ELG estimates the number of its employees will nearly triple from 39 in 2016 to an expected 112 by the end of 2019.

We've reached out to Boeing to inquire on specifics for companies who are purchasing the excess materials, and will update if we learn more on what, where and when you can buy.

Featured image courtesy of Boeing.

Featured image by Boeing 777x (Photo courtesy of Boeing)

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