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Reducing our carbon footprint with recycled carbon fiber

autodesk university
January 25, 2017

You hear a lot about carbon fiber these days. It’s difficult to find another substance that delivers so much strength while being so light. Those characteristics make it an important material in automotive, aerospace, and other industries, because it enables us to make vehicles lighter but no less strong. The lighter the vehicle, the less fuel it requires. The less fuel it consumes, the lower the emissions. That’s the good news.

But carbon fiber has a few drawbacks, as we learn from Andrew Maxey, founder of Vartega Carbon Recycling LLC, in the latest Innovation Zone presentation from AU 2016. It’s expensive to produce, for example, averaging $45 per pound in some cases. That means manufacturers have to pick and choose where to use it. And because it’s a composite—carbon fibers are usually embedded in a plastic matrix—it’s difficult to recycle. That means up to now, vast amounts of it have been thrown away every year. And because carbon fiber is such a stable and strong material, that’s trash that will last in our landfills for millennia.

Maxey’s company, Vartega, is changing that. They’ve pioneered a chemistry-based process to separate the carbon fiber from the plastic (“pre-preg,” in the industry lingo) and recycle the carbon fiber for further use. And because their process can be done on-site at your factory, you don’t have to ship your carbon fiber garbage to get it processed.

According to Maxey, recycled fiber costs roughly half as much as virgin fiber to produce and requires as much as 90% less energy, too. That makes it affordable for an increasing number of applications. And that means we can make more vehicles ever lighter and more fuel efficient. So we’re back to the good news.

But don’t take our word for it. Get the scoop straight from Maxey himself in his 10-minute Innovation Zone presentation.

Watch the AU 2016 Opening Keynote from Las Vegas

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