SEATTLE—Boeing and ELG Carbon Fibre are partnering on a project to recycle excess aerospace-grade composite material. The agreement is the first of its kind in the aerospace industry. It covers excess carbon fiber from 11 Boeing plants and will reduce solid waste by more than 1 million pounds a year.
“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,” says Tia Benson Tolle, Boeing a and fabrication director for product strategy and future airplane development. “[We] improved [our] production methods to minimize excess and developed a model for collecting scrap material.”
However, until recently, technical barriers stood in the way of repurposing material that had already been cured or prepped for use in the airplane manufacturing process. ELG engineers developed a proprietary method to recycle composites so they do not have to be thrown out. The process uses a furnace that vaporizes the resin that holds carbon fiber layers together and leaves behind clean material.
To prove that the recycling method can be applied on a large scale, Boeing and ELG conducted a pilot project where they recycled excess material from Boeing's Composite Wing Center in Everett, WA.
“Recycling composites will eventually be as commonplace as recycling aluminum and titanium,” claims Kevin Bartelson, 777 wing operations leader. “This collaboration takes [our] commitment to protect the environment to a whole new level.”