Carbon fibre is transforming the world as we know it.
Extremely light and incredibly strong, it’s being used to improve the performance and efficiency of a huge number of products and industries – from aviation, automotive and renewable energy, to sports equipment and technology.
It’s also the material that enables us to create our ultra-lightweight, durable and high pressure cylinders – cutting weights and improving cylinder performance in a huge range of applications.
However, using carbon fibre isn’t without its challenges.
One of the major issues with carbon fibre is disposal – it’s difficult and expensive to recycle, and as a result, the majority currently ends up in landfill. As carbon fibre prices fall, and the world uses an increasing amount of the material, this has the potential to have a significant environmental impact.
In this post, we explore the problem, before looking at current and near future solutions designed to tackle the issue.
The Challenge of Carbon Fibre Recycling
The big challenge with carbon fibre is that it cannot simply be melted down and reformed. Carbon fibre materials get their strength from multiple, long strands of fibre, which are ‘glued’ together using a polymer resin.
When recycling, this polymer needs to be removed – traditionally by burning it off, or chemically dissolving it. Unfortunately, this process has a knock-on effect on the carbon fibre. The recycled strands are shorter and less uniform than newly manufactured carbon fibre, which reduces strength, performance and utility.
Ultimately, the resulting material is little better (and often more expensive) than the materials it is used to replace, like aluminium and glass fibre…
When recycling carbon composite cylinders, the problem is further compounded by the fact that the materials need to be separated from the aluminium liner before they can be recycled.
Taking Responsibility for Cylinder Recycling
At AMS Composite Cylinders, we understand that we have a responsibility to provide a sustainable disposal solution for our products. To that end, we’re taking the lead, and investing in an environmentally responsible end of life management programme.
We are currently working with a partner in Taiwan, who is developing a specialist, complete recycling system for carbon composite cylinders. The idea here is to make full use of all the component parts of each composite cylinder, from the carbon fibre wrap down to the aluminium liner.
Their unique process is designed to retain the integrity of the carbon fibre – ensuring that the recycled product is a valuable, high performance material.
Innovative Carbon Fibre Recycling Solutions
Our partner uses a two-part system that results in near zero to landfill results. First, cylinders are cut into sections, before the carbon fibre is separated from the aluminium liner. This liner is then sent for recycling.
The remaining composite materials are then crushed, before being subjected to a unique microwave, thermal decomposition process, which breaks down the carbon composite into its component parts – whilst minimising the impact on the recycled materials.
The glass fibre and carbon fibre retain more than 90% of their essential performance properties, and can be reused. The epoxy resin is melted down for use in fuel.
The process is now operational, with capacity expanding all the time. In the future, we hope to be able to offer a complete, cost-effective recycling/cylinder exchange programme to our customers.
When it comes to carbon fibre cylinders, one of the best ways of tackling the problem of responsible disposal is to take steps to minimise the number of cylinders that require recycling.
This starts with product selection. Specifying Non-Limited Life (NLL) composite cylinders will help to mitigate the issue.
Unlike those rated to 15 year lifespans, NLL cylinders can be used indefinitely (subject to periodic testing) until they eventually become damaged or fail. In real-world applications, they should comfortably deliver at least twice the lifespan of 15 year cylinders – translating to half the number of cylinders requiring disposal.
Lightweight Carbon Composite Cylinders from AMS
AMS Composite Cylinders supplies a full range of advanced, lightweight gas cylinders to customers across the UK and Europe.
Our cylinders are used in a wide variety of applications, including healthcare, respiratory, SCBA, laboratory, industrial, emergency, aerospace, hydrogen fuel cell and environmental uses.
Carbon composite cylinders offer high pressure (300 Bar), low weight, and NLL (Non-Limited Life) performance, and are accredited for use worldwide, in line with ISO 11119-2, UN-TPED Pi, DOT (USA), TC (Canada).
Additional information about AMS Composite Cylinders Ltd can be found at www.ams-composites.com.