The UK’s National Composites Centre has launched an initiative to industrialise continuous carbon fibre reclamation.

The three year programme will see a team of composites specialists refine and scale the industrial processes needed to establish a commercial market for reclaimed continuous carbon fibre.

“With global demand for virgin fibre set to exceed supply by 2025, this could ease pressure on supply chains and see the UK take a leading role in defining a new era for composites,” a statement said.

While chopped carbon fibre is already recycled, industrial applications for the material are narrow. Working with B&M Longworth and Cygnet Texkimp, the NCC successfully trialled and tested processes to reclaim and reuse ‘continuous’ lengths of carbon fibre that retain a higher material performance. It is hoped that this will accelerate the creation of three different grades of carbon fibre – ‘A,B and C’ – to support a wider range of applications and reduce the volume of continuous carbon fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP) material sent to landfill in the UK by 50% by 2026.

With lightweight, strong and design friendly carbon fibre being a key component in everything from aircraft and electric vehicles to hydrogen storage tanks and the next generation of super sized turbine blades, global demand for the material is set to outstrip supply – growing from nearly 100,000 tonnes today to around 300,000 tonnes by 2030. This shortage will have an impact on many sectors striving to achieve net zero goals.

This initiative, led by National Composites Centre in Bristol, a composites technology facility, will push forward the scalable industrialisation of continuous carbon fibre recycling, building a strong supply chain in the UK.

Enrique Garcia, NCC chief technology officer, said: “Famously, the UK leads the world in the industrialisation of carbon fibre manufacturing but has struggled to develop the sector. We exported much of our expertise – and even our manufacturing infrastructure – to Japan, which was subsequently able to capitalise on a huge growth in US defence spending in the 1980s and, later, a boom in consumer demand for high end carbon fibre products.

“We now have a unique opportunity to drive forward a new market by industrialising the processes required to recycle carbon fibre – it is imperative that we push hard now to establish this capability in the UK.

The first sprint project is expected to finalise in November 2022.