The global demand for virgin carbon fiber is projected to exceed supply by 2025, and while chopped carbon fiber is already recycled, industrial applications for the material remain limited. In response, the National Composites Centre (NCC) in the U.K. has launched a three-year initiative to industrialize the reclamation and reuse of continuous carbon fiber.

Together with research partners B&M Longworth and Cygnet Texkimp, the NCC successfully trialed a process that uses superheated steam to separate out continuous lengths of carbon fiber, which can serve some of the same applications as virgin fiber. Scaling up this process over the next three years could be aLengths of recycled carbon fiber. Source: NCCLengths of recycled carbon fiber. Source: NCC crucial step to meet the growing demand for the material and avert supply shortfalls.

According to the NCC, the plan is to establish an ‘ABC’ grading system of reclaimed fiber that will support a wider range of applications for second-life material. If successful, it’s estimated that by 2026, the new system could reduce the volume of continuous carbon fiber reinforced polymer material sent to landfills in the U.K. by 50%.

Through trials, the NCC has calculated that using reclaimed fiber reduces material manufacturing emissions from around 29.5 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) to 5 kg of CO2e. Developing a stream for second-life carbon fiber could also provide a new potential revenue stream for businesses as the demand for the material increases and supply is squeezed. Highest quality virgin fiber will be allocated to sectors like aerospace and automotive, while other sectors can make use of recycled material.

To contact the author of this article, email shimmelstein@globalspec.com