Concrete Solutions

Carbon fiber paves a way to clean groundwater

February 25, 2016 in Our Environment

The same light-weight carbon fiber that is boosting the efficiency of Boeing aircraft may also help clean the groundwater back on earth.

Boeing, Washington State University (WSU) and the Washington Stormwater Center are collaborating to research the use of recycled carbon fiber composites to strengthen permeable pavement, a porous paving material that can mitigate pollution from stormwater runoff.

Boeing is supporting the research with a $212,000 grant to the Stormwater Center and donating carbon fiber composite material from aircraft production operations. The grant will support research programs at the WSU Puyallup Research and Extension Center and on the Pullman campus.

“Water is one of our most precious resources, and we need to treat it as such,” said Ursula English, vice president of Boeing Environment, Health & Safety. “Creating the opportunity to expand the use of permeable pavement is good for the environment and the communities in which we live and work."

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), permeable pavement allows stormwater to percolate and infiltrate through the surface into the soil below where the water is naturally filtered and pollutants removed.

Permeable pavement is currently used on parking lots and side roads, but is considered too soft for use on more heavily-traveled streets and highways. The new research will see if recycled carbon fiber composite material can strengthen permeable pavement and expand its potential use.

“If we find this material safely strengthens permeable pavement, resulting in an increase in its use, this could be a game changer in terms of reducing the impact of pollutants in stormwater on the environment,” said John Stark, director of the Washington Stormwater Center.

Early testing with the carbon fiber-strengthened pavement is showing positive results.

“Water that comes through a porous asphalt contains some toxic materials harmful to aquatic life,” said Dr. Jenifer McIntyre, Washington State University ecotoxicologist. “It looks like water coming through the porous asphalt that has the carbon fiber is not toxic. Carbon fiber is likely able to capture some of the chemicals coming through the asphalt.”

Carbon fiber composite material is widely used on the 787 Dreamliner and other Boeing products to reduce weight, which improves fuel efficiency and reduces emissions.

The new research project with WSU and the Washington Stormwater Center is the latest example of Boeing’s collaboration with a variety of academic and research organizations on environmental issues.

By Eric Olson and Patrick Summers