11.01.16 - Georgia Tech

The pictures we’ve seen over the past several years have shown some owners of supercars who end up wrecking them soon after they’re purchased. In some cases the owners simply buy a replacement car and in others the cars are repaired back to the status they were before the wreck. These high priced supercars, and even some of our mainstream models are made from a material that until recently has been difficult to recycle because of its singular use when molded and shaped. It seems we now have a way to recycle this material and make it useful once again to be part of another vehicle.

The material that’s had a single use until now is carbon fiber. This is the perfect material for building some of the parts of cars out of because of its strength and light weight. This material is made from fibers being molded to the shape desired and held together with an epoxy. Unfortunately there hasn’t been a way found to break the fibers away from the epoxy to be able to reuse the material. The same issue doesn’t exist with metals that can be melted down and reused unless they are an alloy, but even in these cases the material responds to heat and can be reshaped and reused.

Researchers at Georgia Tech have discovered they can dissolve the epoxy and separate it from the carbon fibers by using an alcohol solvent. By doing this the carbon fibers can then be allowed to be reused in another car part or other item that’s being made from this highly expensive material. One of the main reasons carbon fiber has been so expensive over the years is the fact that it wasn’t a material that could be recycled. With this new discovery the price of carbon fiber could come down, or at least the price of recycled carbon fiber, which could still be reused in vehicle parts.

Currently we have an issue of having tons of wasted carbon fiber that’s produced each year and those who race on the track or have crashed their car with a carbon fiber body have experienced just how expensive it is to replace these items. Now that some interior features of some cars are made of carbon fiber we could see more of these interior features being built of recycled carbon fiber to help reduce the cost of the vehicles on the market.

While there’s no proof that this recycled carbon fiber will be weaker than the original, if this material follows the same path as other materials that are recycled it won’t be strong enough to be used in structural parts or body panels once recycled, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be part of the interior features of a gorgeous luxury car. If the price falls enough for recycled carbon fiber we may even see some mainstream cars begin to use this material and be considered eco-friendly in the process because they’re made with a recycled material.

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