Advanced Composite materials (glass, carbon, aramid, boron and related materials) have exceptional durability, superior strength, near-zero maintenance and low weight, are expanding into the automotive, aerospace and renewable energy industries at an ever-accelerating pace.

The use of composite materials in automotive (all transportation) applications, are a result of their inherent advantages over traditional metal materials. But one major hurdle has yet to be fully overcome, the recycling and disposal of composite material structures at their end-of-life cycles. There has been very limited success in commercial scale recycling operations for advanced composite materials, due to the numerous technological and economic challenges.

Trouve’ EV intends to pioneer the world’s most advanced full-scale recycling capability with the Electric vehicles we produce, by utilizing our international research & development initiatives. The carbon fiber structures of the Trouve’ EV will be 100% recyclable!

Recycling Glass Fiber:

Glass fiber (fiberglass) is the most common material that is used to replace conventional materials such as wood, aluminum and steel.  The manufacture of fiberglass uses less energy than forming metals, resulting in less industrial carbon emissions.

Fiberglass may be exceptionally useful but an “end of life solution” is needed. FRP (Fiberglass Reinforced Plastic) composites with thermoset or thermoplastic resins are NOT biodegradable. For many infrastructure and industrial applications where fiberglass is used, this is a good thing. However, just dumping it into landfills is not.

Current research has created inexpensive recycling methods such as grinding and incineration with the remnants being used in various end products. Recycled glass fibers have been effective as an additive in concrete and asphalt by enhancing their durability in freezing and hot temperatures.

Many other uses for recycled fiberglass where increased mechanical properties are required have yet to be identified. There exists a serious potential for future growth in this technology.

Recycling Carbon Fiber:

Carbon fiber structures are stronger than if made with steel or aluminum and are much lighter than both of these metals. Carbon fiber is now the material of choice for the manufacture of automotive and aerospace structures, sporting & recreational products and much, much more.

The current annual worldwide production volumes of carbon fiber far exceed 80,000 metric tonnes, servicing many diverse manufacturing markets. Virtually all carbon fiber waste goes to the landfill. Research is being conducted to extract the high value carbon fiber from end-of-life components and from manufacturing scrap. The goal is to reuse them for creating additional carbon fiber components. This is still a vastly underserviced market technology.

Can you imagine the amount of carbon fiber that could be recovered from scrapping out a Boeing 787 airliner! Chewing up an all-carbon fiber aircraft of this magnitude is not an option at this time as there is no commercially viable “system” available to perform this material recovery.

When the use of carbon fiber becomes mainstream in the automotive industry as is being incorporated into the Trouve’ EV, recycling of these large volumes of polymer carbon composites is going to be a massive business opportunity. Take a look at your nearby auto recycling depot and imagine if all those crushed steel cars were made from ‘recyclable’ carbon fiber!

The Future for Recycling Automotive Composite Materials

Composites will continue to be the materials of choice for many engineering applications because of their durability and vastly superior strength. Proper automotive composite materials waste disposal and better yet, recycling at the end of their useful life, will become an absolute necessity.  With certainty, future waste management and environmental legislation will mandate that composite materials be properly recovered and recycled, from automobiles that have lived their useful life.

Many technologies have been developed for composites recycling and are on the brink of being fully commercialized. Recycling will contribute to the sustainable development of the composites industry and Trouve’ EV will be ‘Leading the Field’ in this exciting technology.

Auth. Wilson J. Boynton, CET