Environmental Aspects of Use of Recycled Carbon Fiber Composites in Automotive Applications

January 19, 2024

Abstract
The high cost and energy intensity of virgin carbon fiber manufacture provides an opportunity to recover substantial value from carbon fiber reinforced plastic wastes. In this study, we assess the life cycle environmental implications of recovering carbon fiber and producing composite materials as substitutes for conventional and proposed lightweight materials in automotive applications (e.g., steel, aluminum, virgin carbon fiber). Key parameters for the recycled carbon fiber materials, including fiber volume fraction and fiber alignment, are investigated to identify beneficial uses of recycled carbon fiber in the automotive sector. Recycled carbon fiber components can achieve the lowest life cycle environmental impacts of all materials considered, although the actual impact is highly dependent on the design criteria (λ value) of the specific component. Low production impacts associated with recycled carbon fiber components are observed relative to lightweight competitor materials (e.g., aluminum, virgin carbon fiber reinforced plastic). In addition, recycled carbon fiber components have low in-use energy use due to mass reductions and associated reduction in mass-induced fuel consumption. The results demonstrate environmental feasibility of the CFRP recycling materials, supporting the emerging commercialization of CF recycling technologies and identifying significant potential market opportunities in the automotive sector.
Author
Fanran Meng, Jon McKechnie, Thomas Turner, Kok H. Wong, and Stephen J. Pickering
Citation
Fanran Meng, Jon McKechnie, Thomas Turner, Kok H. Wong, and Stephen J. Pickering. (2017), Environmental Aspects of Use of Recycled Carbon Fiber Composites in Automotive Applications. Environmental Science and Technology 51(21): 12727–12736. Doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.7b04069