Enviro develops technology to recover carbon fibre from composites

April 11, 2019

Scandinavian tyre recycler Enviro’s pyrolysis technology is now able to successfully extract carbon fibres from composite material, and it seems possible to utilise the material commercially within the automotive industry. This is demonstrated by the test results from a research project run by RISE (Research Institute of Sweden) in collaboration with Enviro.

“Tests show that recycled carbon fibres can be used in, for example, Sheet Moulding Compound (SMC), a type of compression moulding of composite products that works well in areas such as the motor vehicle industry”, says the CEO of Enviro, Thomas Sörensson.

The same pyrolysis technology that is used to recover carbon black from tyres can now be used to recover carbon fibres while preserving their fibre length, allowing them to be used in new composite products. The technology works for both combination materials, cut and micronised carbon fibres, and components with long fibres, opening multiple different potential applications for the recovered carbon fibre material.

“The purpose of the research project is to evaluate how the recovered carbon fibres can be used in the automotive industry. The infrastructure sector and construction industry have already shown some interest as well.”

The automotive industry’s interest in materials that are simultaneously lightweight and strong is growing quickly. Carbon fibre components reduce the weight of vehicles without negatively affecting the strength of their materials. In addition to lightweight metal structures, carbon fibre materials are expected to be used more and more in vehicles in the future. Around the world, the market for carbon fibre has consolidated into a few manufacturers, who are expected to grow by about 12% by 2024.

“Today, carbon fibre presents a challenge for the automotive industry in the form of high material costs, due to high costs of manufacturing and limited availability, along with the EU directive from 2015, which stipulates that at least 95 percent of a vehicle’s material should be recyclable.”

The complexity of efficiently recycling carbon fibres, or combinations of carbon fibres and metal, has thus far limited our ability to produce commercial solutions for the automotive industry. At the same time there aren’t many other options available, because one of the consequences of the legal requirements for reduced CO2emissions from passenger vehicles in the EU (95 kg/km) is that vehicle weights need to decrease.

“With the progress we’re making together with RISE, we are now taking a step towards resolving these problems. Another positive is that pyrolysis-recycled carbon fibres are estimated to consume only 10 percent of the energy that is required for new production, which is of great value to both the industry and the environment.”

The next steps of the research project include further tests, and development of the material with the goal of commercialisation.

“We are still early in the development process, but we see a lot of positive aspects to the commercialisation of recycled carbon fibre, where we can take advantage of our experience and technology to produce another valuable material. Large-scale production will require further development and continued collaboration between Enviro, the industry and research institutions,” concludes Sörensson.

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