Boeing

Innovation weaves a new industry and new life for excess carbon fiber

Five-year agreement with commercial recycler will convert material from 11 Boeing sites into car parts, computer cases and other products.

December 05, 2018 in Our Environment

The Composite Wing Center has been sending all of its excess carbon fiber to a global recycler for the past 18 months as part of a pilot project to recycle the material into new products such as computer cases and car parts.

Boeing

Boeing and a global recycler have agreed to a groundbreaking partnership to reutilize excess composite material, which other manufacturers will use to make products such as car parts and computer cases on a commercial scale.

The five-year agreement with ELG Carbon Fibre ensures the 777X Composite Wing Center (CWC) in Everett, Wash., will continue to avoid sending any excess composite material to landfills. Boeing’s 10 other composite manufacturing sites in the United States and Australia will also participate. Boeing will initially provide about 1 million pounds of material a year—supporting the company’s goal to reduce solid waste sent to landfills 20 percent by 2025.

“Recycling cured carbon fiber was not possible just a few years ago,” said Tia Benson Tolle, Materials & Fabrication director for Product Strategy & Future Airplane Development. “With new technology innovations, successful recycling supply chain economics, and great collaboration within Boeing and the industry, we’re working with ELG toward a vision where none of our composite scrap will be sent to landfills.”

United Kingdom-based ELG has recovered about 380,000 pounds of excess carbon fiber from the CWC since March 2017 as a trial project. ELG sells the remanufactured material primarily to companies that make products for the electronics and ground transportation industries.

“We designed the CWC production system with a special emphasis on not sending any waste to landfill,” said Kevin Bartelson, 777 Wing Operations leader. “We’ve made changes in how we collect carbon fiber to maximize its value to recyclers, which supports ELG’s technical expertise in reclaiming it in a commercially viable way.”

Facilities & Asset Management Investment Recovery is considering similar agreements with ELG for excess material from Boeing sites in Canada, China and Malaysia.

“Security of supply is extremely important when considering using these materials in long-term automotive and electronic projects,” said Frazer Barnes, managing director of ELG Carbon Fibre. “This agreement gives us the ability to provide that assurance, which gives our customers the confidence to use recycled materials.”

Boeing has continuously strived to reduce excess composite material, such as refining how much it buys and re-spooling uncured carbon fiber. Teams including those at Boeing Fabrication sites have also worked with partners on smaller projects to use excess uncured material to make athletic gear and kayak paddles, for example.

By Paul McElroy

Recycled composite material from Boeing is being used to make automobile parts such as these aerodynamic pieces from the front end of a sports car.

ELG Carbon Fibre photo