Carbon Fiber Reclamation FAQs
- Why do we want to reclaim carbon fiber?
- Carbon fiber is expensive to produce, both from a raw materials point and due to the very high energy cost converting the polymer base into a carbon fiber. Composites also have a long lifetime in the landfill. In addition to the ecological benefits, the resale value of reclaimed fiber opens the door for an economically interesting business.
- What types of composite scrap can the ATI process treat?
Most fiber reinforced composites are based on either glass or carbon fiber reinforcements. More exotic reinforcements include polyaramide, polyethylene, polyester, and ceramic fibers, but the quantities are of little commercial interest. The polymer matrix holding the composite together is typically made from epoxy and vinyl ester type thermoset resins, so high-temperature thermosets and some thermoplastics are also in use.
While the ATI process can treat all of these materials, only carbon fiber reinforced composites can currently be treated as an economically sustainable business. There are no current or expected markets for any other reclaimed fiber but carbon fiber.
- Do you need to pre-sort the waste?
- One of the big advantages of the ATI process is that it does not rely on extensive pre-sorting or disassembly, saving greatly on labor cost.
- Exactly what feed preparation for the process?
- Materials need to be size reduced before the ATI process. A full-size operation needs parts not to exceed one inch in any dimension, a size easily achieved by commercially available shredders.
- How does the process work?
- The process is based on a wet chemical degradation of the polymer matrix. This method produces a 99+% clean fiber without degrading the fiber strength. Reclaimed fiber and processing liquid are separated using a centrifuge. The liquid is reused for further batches, and the fibers receive a water rinse. There are no volatile solvents used in processing. Material that is unaffected by the wet chemical processing, mainly toughening agents and some sealers, are removed in a final thermal treatment, which replaces the conventional drying step.
- How is that different from pyrolysis?
- Pyrolysis breaks down the organic material in the smallest possible units at high temperatures, often damaging the fiber in the process or leaving behind a char. Both of these effects limit the reuse possibilities of the reclaimed material. The process also requires a large off-gas treatment effort. The cost for the off-gas treatment in pyrolysis exceeds the cost for the pyrolysis itself.
- What kind of fiber does the process generate?
- The process generates short carbon fibers of variable length, from sub-millimeter to about 5 cm. The fibers have been shown to retain 95% of the strength of the virgin material. The fibers can be classified using standard textile industry methods if a more defined fiber length is desired for the application, or they can be milled down for use in injection molding processes.
- What is the scale of ATI’s pilot plant?
- Our current pilot plant is capable of processing 100 lb of composite scrap per batch.
- Opportunity and cost of pilot plant trials?
- For parties with a verifiable interest, be it current or future waste processors or investors in eco-friendly technologies, a technology demonstration can be arranged for a nominal fee. Please contact us for further information.
- What business model do you pursue?
ATI is a research and development company, not a waste processor. As such we are looking for partners who are interested in operating a facility, adding the capability to treat carbon fiber composite waste to an existing facility, or want to own an independent operation.
ATI will sell or license the technology, consult on building and operating a facility, and provide research support for the treatment of new wastestreams.
- Do you have ready-to-go plans in the drawers?
- No, this is not a one-size-fits-all operation. Facilities will have to be designed for operational requirements like the quantity and type of waste, local resources and local regulatory requirements. While we have designs available, engineering will have to be done by licensed firms familiar with the locality and its requirements.
- Do you have any sort of business model showing more detail of potential revenues and costs on a carbon fiber reclamation plant?
ATI has a multi-input, multi-output model, originally developed for a US government recycling process development program. The model includes estimated capital for a complete stand-alone site. The model can be adjusted for any feedstock volume, but the specific capital numbers are inputs rather than calculations for a given volume. The model includes all equipment, site costs, plant engineering design, and licensing fee to ATI. The model also includes ongoing operational and people costs, as well as the cost of capital.
Model output is available to interested parties on request.
- Can you give me at least a rough idea what a facility would cost?
- A 2 ton a day standalone facility would require a $4 Million investment. Co-located plants start at about $2 Million.