USA-71 during racing in 2003. (Picture courtesy of Gilles Martin-Raget/ORACLE TEAM USA.)
USA-71 during racing in 2003. (Picture courtesy of Gilles Martin-Raget/ORACLE TEAM USA.)

Boeing and ORACLE TEAM USA, working with research partners, will use a technique developed to recycle composite materials from Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, which is 50% composite by weight (see Composites poised to transform airline economics – Part 1).

Boeing and ORACLE TEAM USA will work with the University of Nottingham in the UK and MIT-RCF, a US company specialising in repurposing carbon fibre components. 

University of Nottingham

Boeing began collaborating with the University of Nottingham in 2006. The team is developing carbon fibre recycling processes, technology to process recycled fibre into new applications, and new products using recycled materials, in collaboration with other suppliers.

Nottingham’s carbon fibre composite recycling process uses a fluidised bed process to remove the polymer
from composites waste, recovering good quality carbon fibre:

  • composite waste is shredded and fed into a ‘fluidised bed’;
  • heat in fluidised bed thermally removes the polymer;
  • fibres are then carried away in the hot gas stream;
  • fibres separated from the gas stream in a cyclone;
  • hot gases pass to a high temperature combustion chamber for clean up and energy recovery.

The process can deal with contaminated waste from end-of-life components: any organic materials (polymers/paints/foam cores) are oxidised and any metals (metal wire, fasteners or inserts) remain in the fluidised bed for recovery.


Carbon fibre reclaimation – three shades of green

MIT-RCF company believes that carbon fibre reclamation offers one of the best paths to decreasing carbon footprint, offering three main benefits:

waste elimination: reclamation eliminates the need for manufacturers to send scrap materials to a landfill or to incinerate the waste;

reduced energy: it takes 96% less energy to reclaim carbon fibre than it does to manufacture virgin carbon fibre;

sustainable parts: carbon fibre scrap is recyclable and MIT-RCF's 3-DEP™ moulding process provides a way to manufacture sustainable parts.

MIT-RCF specialises in "reclaiming, re-engineering, and repurposing" carbon fibre composites.

According to MIT-RCF, over 29,700,000 lbs (13,500 tonnes) of carbon fibre scrap is landfilled annually in the USA; and in Europe the figure is over 23,100,000 lbs (10,500 tonnes).

MIT-RCF says its 3-DEP process can create carbon fibre preforms from reclaimed carbon fibre, which can then be moulded into a part.

MIT-RCF is subsidiary of Materials Innovation Technologies, an advanced materials company focused on developing solutions for the manufacture of complex-shaped, performance composite parts. Successful R&D trials led to the creation of MIT-RCF and the opening of a reclamation and manufacturing facility in Lake City, South Carolina, in April 2010.

The 50,000 ft2 facility in Lake City houses carbon fibre reclamation and manufacturing operations using a custom, large-scale 3-DEP machine.

The facility has the capacity to process 3-5 million lbs of carbon fibre scrap annually that can be repurposed as commercial fibre, preforms, and moulded components.

The introduction of composites in yacht construction was a major step in our sport. The materials and processes have continued to evolve, allowing us to build the high-tech, high-speed AC72 catamarans raced in this year's America's Cup.

Now, we have the ability to work with Boeing to take the next steps in composite recycling, and to help reduce our environmental footprint. We will also look to recycle carbon components remaining from the build of our yachts.

Chris Sitzenstock, ORACLE TEAM USA logistics

America's Cup project

USA-71's hull will be cut into 4 ft sections and the mast will be chopped into 'manageable' pieces before it is processed. About 75% of the recycled composites will come from the hull and the remaining 25% from the mast.

Although the companies have not determined the post-recycling use of the yacht's carbon fibre, potential end uses include consumer and industrial products.

Boeing and ORACLE TEAM USA expect to gather data about the mechanical properties, costs and time flows to recycle sailing-grade composite materials in comparison to aerospace and automotive composites. 

Boeing and BMW 

In December 2012, Boeing signed a collaboration agreement with BMW to participate in joint research on carbon fibre recycling. 

BMW is launching two vehicles with passenger compartments made of carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) – the BMW i3 and i8. The i3 made its debut this year (see: BMW trailblazing the use of composites in new i3 electric car).

BMW says the i3 represents the first use of CFRP in high volume automotive production. 

Other car makers are also looking at ways to employ CFRP in order to reduce vehicle weight and improve fuel efficiency (see Carbon composites and cars – technology watch 2012).

Weight reduction is particularly important in electric vehicles such as the BMW i3 to offset the weight of the batteries.


For more information on recycling carbon fibre composites see: