Research proves recycled composites can be used in new industry applications

Ground-breaking research being conducted by the National Composites Centre (NCC) is proving that composites can be recycled at end-of-life.

They can then be used in new industry applications; providing solutions for the challenge of composite waste and reducing the environmental impact of advanced materials. The innovative project is being conducted by the NCC in collaboration with a cross-sector group of industry-leading organisations, including Network Rail, Airbus, Shell and Gen 2 Carbon as part of the NCC’s Core Research Programme.

The UK’s world-leading research centre for composite materials, the NCC’s research aims to demonstrate the recycling of end-of-life composites. In turn, it is hoped this will increase industry confidence in the use of the non-virgin materials in second-life applications.


Carbon fibre reinforced polymer sections being extracted from the vertical tail plane.

The project has successfully extracted carbon fibre from two Airbus A320 vertical tail planes that had reached the end of their service lives, using a pyrolysis process. The reclaimed fibres will now be processed and configured into a fabric format that can be used with liquid resin composite manufacturing processes.

The new material combination will be assessed and characterised for its mechanical performance, before being used to manufacture a wheelchair ramp against design criteria from the rail sector.

The demonstrator will show the cross-sector application possibilities for end-of-life composites, with the learnings from this case study being taken forward and transferred to other products in sectors such as construction, rail, automotive and more.

Carbon fibres recovered from the extracted carbon fibre reinforced polymer sections.

Dr. Enrique Garcia, Chief Technology Officer at the NCC, said: “The NCC is at the forefront of the use of advanced composites, working with industry to anticipate the future needs and applications across the sectors.

The diverse consortia involved in this project highlights the near-term challenges being faced across a number of industries, and the importance of our work to find sustainable solutions for end-of-life composites.

This initiative is successfully developing the technologies required to overcome these challenges, paving the way for a new supply chain of recycled composites, allowing more industries to make use of their unique, beneficial properties at a lower cost.”

The Core Research programme is a cross-sector initiative involving the NCC’s Member organisations that identifies the biggest challenges currently being faced by industry and solves them through collaborative research and development.

In partnership with the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), the NCC also leads the Sustainable Composites initiative. Through this programme, the NCC works with companies of all sizes to create a more sustainable future utilising the benefits of composite materials and applications. Any organisation with an idea or challenge can contact [email protected] to talk to its specialists.

For related content from The Manufacturer, see how sustainable composites were used to manufacture a wheelchair seat design.


Images courtesy of NCC