For manufacturers looking to shave weight from a product, carbon fiber has become the material du jour. Carbon fiber's high strength-to-weight ratio is a property that everyone from Boeing to BMW finds appealing. But these benefits come at a cost, both financially and environmentally. Carbon fiber tops the list of alternatives to high-strength steel and aluminum, but unlike alloys, waste from the carbon fiber manufacturing process can't be melted down and used again. For now, it seems there's no cost effective way to recycle the material.
BMW and Boeing are hoping to change that. The automaker and aerospace company look to join forces to find a more sustainable life cycle for carbon fiber manufacturing.
"Boeing has many years of extensive experience using carbon fiber in the field of aviation, while the BMW Group has earned a significant competitive advantage through its use of special manufacturing methods for series production of carbon fiber parts," said Herbert Diess, Member of the Board of BMW AG for Development. "Through this cooperation we can merge know-how between our industries in the field of sustainable production solutions."
"Through this cooperation we can merge know-how between our industries..."
In addition, recycling research will focus on the end of life reclaimability.
"This collaboration agreement is a very important step forward in developing the use and end use of carbon fiber materials," said Larry Schneider, Boeing Commercial Airplanes vice president of Product Development. "It is especially important that we plan for the end of life of products made from carbon fiber. We want to look at ways to reclaim and reuse those materials to make new products."
With the ability to reclaim used carbon fiber, both in manufacturing and at end of life, cost of production could be reduced, bringing carbon fiber to the mainstream. As cars become lighter, without sacrificing tensile strength, expect gains in both performance and fuel efficiency.