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Washington State researchers work with aerospace industry to develop recycling method for polymer composites

By David Schwartz
Published: May 16th, 2017

A team of researchers from Washington State University (WSU) has developed a method to recycle carbon fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP) composites – which have until now resisted any method of recycling. The new method is one of the only successes to date in recycling epoxy-based thermoset composites. As the researchers explain, while thermoplastics are easily recycled, thermosets are not because they contain cured resin.

The research could be an important advance for aerospace companies, who much dispose of two million pounds of the material in landfills every year in Washington state alone.

The work was funded by the Joint Center for Aerospace Technology Innovation (JCATI) in collaboration with Global Fiberglass Solutions. The state-funded JCATI works to support Washington’s aerospace industry by pursuing research that is relevant to aerospace companies and by providing industry-focused research opportunities.

For the research, Jinwen Zhang, a professor in the WSU School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, and his team studied a chemical recycling method that breaks down the thermosets using mild acids as catalysts in liquid ethanol at a relatively low temperature. To break down cured materials, the researchers raised the temperature of the material so that the catalyst-containing liquid could penetrate into the composite and break down the complex structure.

According to Zhang, the combination of chemicals is what makes the approach effective — ethanol to make the resins expand, and zinc chloride to break down critical carbon-nitrogen bonds.

Source: Composites Manufacturing

Posted under: Industry-Sponsored Research Week

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