Smooth sailing for composites and carbon fibre recycling

Posted on 16 Oct 2013 by Tim Brown

America’s Cup winners, Boeing and Nottingham Uni to collaborate

Oracle Team USA, winner of the 2013 34th America’s Cup, are collaborating to recycle 7,000 pounds (about 3,175 kilograms) of carbon fibre of the USA-71 yacht.

The hull and mast of the racing yacht will be processed and re-purposed, a first-of-its-kind activity for what is likely to be the largest carbon structure ever recycled.

Boeing and Oracle Team USA, working with research partners, will utilise a technique developed to recycle composite materials from Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, which is 50% composite by weight and 20% more fuel efficient than similarly sized aircraft.

Composite materials allow a lighter, simpler structure, which increases efficiency, and do not fatigue or corrode. In yachts, composite construction also provides the ability to develop a lighter vessel that is stronger and stiffer at the same time.

“The introduction of composites in yacht construction was a major step in our sport,” said Chris Sitzenstock, Oracle Team USA logistics manager. “The materials and processes have continued to evolve, allowing us to build the high tech, high speed AC72 catamarans raced in this year’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.

Oracle Team USA says it will also look to recycle carbon components remaining from the construction of its yachts.

“Boeing leads the commercial aviation industry in increasing the use of and recycling of composites to improve aircraft fuel efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Billy Glover, Boeing Commercial Airplanes vice president of market strategy. “We are very pleased now to work with Oracle Team USA, to advance sustainability and the science of composite recycling.”

Boeing and Oracle Team USA will work with the University of Nottingham and MIT-RCF, a South Carolina company focused on repurposing carbon fibre components. In 2006 Boeing began collaborating with the University of Nottingham on carbon fibre recycling and they continue to work on recycling processes and technology to process the recycled fiber into new applications.

USA-71’s hull will be cut into 4-foot 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 percent from the mast.

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