Green, Low-cost Recycling of Carbon Fiber
- Green and economic water-based chemical method -
- Mass commercialization potential and economic feasibility -
Dr. Ko Moon-ju’s team at the Compound Material Technology Institute of the Carbon Convergence Materials Research Center in the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) Jeonbuk Institute of Advanced Composite Materials developed a new technology for using water to recycle carbon fiber, a high-priced material, from Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastics (CFRP)*. The KIST Jeonbuk Institute held a technology transfer presentation for carbon fiber-related companies on August 25th.
* Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastics: CFRP is made by binding the reinforcement made of carbon fiber together with the matrix made of epoxy or fluoride resin. After pressurized, the compound material is heated and solidified. CFRP is lighter than aluminum and stronger than steel. It is used in a variety of areas such as satellites.
CFRP is a carbon fiber-based compound material that is 25% lighter and 10 times stronger than steel. It is widely used in various industries such as the aerospace, automotive, ship-building and sports equipment industries. The global CFRP market is expected to reach 21 trillion KRW in 2015 and 42 trillion KRW in 2020. It is one of the promising future technologies benchmarked by the National Science and Technology Commission on August 10.
CFRP is expensive to produce. But few technologies have been able to dispose of or recycle the material. So far, landfills and incineration have been the preferred methods for disposing of CFRP. However, since the material does not degrade, the EU has banned disposing it in landfills. And during incinerating, the material’s property changes and toxic substances are released by the heat, possibly resulting in other environmental issues.
The CFRP recycling technology developed by the KIST team is a chemical method using water as a solvent with a low-cost additive. It is an innovative technology that requires low energy (100℃ and 10 atmospheric pressure). If the compound material is recycled using this technology, more than 95% of the carbon fiber is recovered, while its material property is maintained. This is a green, economic technology that offers a lot of advantages.
To apply this recycling technology to the domestic carbon fiber industry as quickly as possible, KIST manufactured and operated a pilot plant that can recycle 1 ton of the material per year, demonstrating its excellent potential for mass production and its economic feasibility.
Compared to disposal by incineration, the initial investment is around only 10%. Maintenance costs for the facility over the next 20 years add up to only 1/40 of the norm, indicating high economic feasibility. And since the 5-ton reactor can recycle 250 tons of CFRP per year, it is ideal for mass production.
Furthermore, the new technology uses water and cheap additives, with only a small amount of energy. This is the lowest-costing CFRP recycling technology in the world, allowing you to recycle 1kg of CRFP for only 1,500 won.
Incineration burns the epoxy resin, which is the matrix of CFRP, and recycles only the carbon fiber. However, the new technology can recycle not only carbon fiber but epoxy resin as well. As this technology can decompose the epoxy resin, it is expected to be applied in various relevant industrial fields, such as ones involving paint and circuit boards.
Dr. Ko said, “I decided to explore an innovative way to recycle carbon fiber. Our method is economic and environmentally friendly. It can be applied to the industry promptly. Eventually, our team plans to export this technology overseas where the compound material-trading market is big, such as in China, the US and Europe.”
At the technology transfer presentation, the research team demonstrated the technology using the 1-ton pilot plant, and they explained the technology transfer contract processes. KIST plans to transfer the technology to any domestic company desiring to commercialize it.