The Race to Reuse With Sports Carbon Fiber Recycling

carbon fiber recycling

Despite its association with modern gear, carbon fiber has been part of the sports landscape since Kestrel introduced its carbon fiber bicycle in the late 1980s. Since then, carbon fiber has appealed to many sports professionals looking for lighter gear. Many of those products end up in landfills after a bad bike crash or a frustrated club swing.

This waste has made carbon fiber recycling a priority. Sustainable carbon fiber use helps both consumers and companies.

Where does recycled carbon fiber come from, and which organizations have led the way with its adoption? How does recycled carbon fiber differ from pieces earlier in the carbon fiber lifecycle? Read on for more information on sports carbon fiber recycling.

Recycling Challenges of Carbon Fiber

While some elements of carbon fiber pieces make good candidates for recycling, the fibers that make up most of the product don’t. The traits that make carbon fiber great, such as its strength and resistance to melting, make it hard to recycle.

It doesn’t break down over time, either. Biodegradation resistance appeals to some users. It also means carbon fiber golf clubs and bikes add to landfill waste.

Circularity Initiatives

The World Sailing Trust has taken the lead in recycling sports technology. Its Carbon Fibre Circular Demonstration Project shows the potential for reusing carbon fiber across many sports. In the future, this effort will include other large users of carbon fiber, including the car industry.

Early efforts in this project focus on realigning the carbon fibers from broken equipment. Realignment lets manufacturers turn it into a different product. These efforts have led to fibers that exceed the pre-recycling components in strength in some applications.

The project’s current machine needs manual fiber alignment. The upcoming automated machine will handle about 80 billion fibers per day.

Financial Incentives

Recycled carbon fiber saves more than the environment. Manufacturers can cut costs by using recycled materials.

Where does this cost reduction come from? It turns out that some carbon fiber recycling methods save 95 percent of the energy used to make new fiber. Manufacturers can pass these savings on to customers.

Carbon Fiber Recycling: An Olympic Issue

Where many sports come together, carbon fiber circularity becomes an issue at scale. Nowhere does this become clearer than in international events like the Olympics.

Over five-sixths of Winter Olympics sports use carbon fiber materials in at least one piece of equipment. Half of all Summer Olympics sports use these materials. Multiply that by hundreds of teams, and you have a lot of fiber.

The International Olympic Committee has set goals for carbon fiber recycling. Equipment supplied by the Olympic Games will use recycled carbon fiber in the future. (Most teams bring their gear, but the Olympics supplies some teams.)

Closing the Loop

Carbon fiber recycling can save money and the environment. Some large carbon fiber users have started looking at new ways to transform carbon fiber waste. These efforts look promising, but time will tell how efficient carbon fiber use can get.

To join the carbon fiber conversation, contact us for a project quote. Our team stands ready to embrace carbon fiber sustainability efforts. For the last decade, we’ve offered complete solutions and transparency for our customers.

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