Recycling & Upcycling - Trends: Non-woven carbon fiber or synthetic materials


Recycling & Upcycling - Trends: Non-woven carbon fiber or synthetic materials

Nonwovens made from recycled carbon fibers (PAN) are increasingly being used in the aerospace and automotive industries, in consumer electronics and the sporting goods industry.

Profile companies are currently making numerous efforts to develop effective processes for the complete cyclic recovery of extremely expensive carbon fibers. Against this background, the conversion of pre-crushed (chopped) waste carbon materials into non-woven materials is currently one of the only commercially viable options for ensuring their second cycle of existence.

The demand for primary carbon fiber materials as reinforcing components of composite parts, which can be in the form of woven, knitted, braided or non-woven structures, continues to grow. However, up to 30% of the total volume of carbon composites is wasted in production processes even before the production of finished parts. Considering that lightweight, durable and design-friendly carbon fiber composites are currently key components in most industries, ranging from aircraft and electric vehicle production to hydrogen storage tanks and turbine blades and wind turbines, it is expected that global demand for this material will exceed supply - from 100,000 tons today, up to about 300,000 tons by 2030.

Aerospace industry

In the aerospace industry, the use of carbon fiber as the basis for composite parts has grown from 10% (airframes) 30 years ago to more than 50% in aircraft such as the Boeing 777X and Dreamliner 787.

The fuselage, wings, tail section, doors and interior of the Dreamliner contain about 23 tons of carbon fiber composite parts, which makes it about 20% lighter than other aircraft of comparable size.

Since 2018, Boeing has been cooperating with specialized processors from the UK who collect composite waste from Boeing facilities, process it in furnaces, evaporating the resin that binds the carbon fiber layers to subsequently obtain a pure fibrous material that will turn into new nonwovens.

These recycled carbon nonwovens have many uses, the most notable of which is being used as a base for Dell laptop cases.

Dell, which annually produces about six million composite laptop cases, introduced recycled carbon into them in 2020.

Boeing is also exploring ways to incorporate recycled carbon into its own programs and testing the use of recycled carbon in parts such as aircraft side panels and moisture-absorbing floors.

Meanwhile, many initiatives are currently being implemented aimed at more successfully keeping expensive carbon fiber in circulation even after recycling. Upcycling or complete preservation of the value of the source material is the ultimate goal.

Ambitions of the European Union

The EU's ambitions to create a closed-loop economy also go far beyond such expensive fibers as carbon, and include both natural and synthetic commercial fibers, as well as low-value plastic.

The separate collection of textile waste will become mandatory for all EU member states from January 1, 2025, and this, along with the EU Strategy for Single-use Plastic Products introduced in 2020, is already having a stimulating effect on efforts to expand recycling and reuse opportunities.

For example, in January of this year, Eastman announced plans to invest up to $ 1 billion in a plant for the molecular processing of polyester in France by 2025. It will process up to 160,000 metric tons of hard-to-recycle polyester waste annually, which is currently being incinerated.

It is argued that Eastman polyester renewal technology provides real cycling for hard-to-recycle waste that is commonly incinerated today because it either cannot be recycled mechanically or must be recycled using existing expensive technologies. Eastman plans to break down hard-to-recycle waste into molecular blocks, and then reassemble them into a first-class updated material that will be used in the technological process without any compromises.

Eastman polyester renewal technology will provide potentially infinite value to materials by supporting them in production, cycle by cycle.


In France, Indorama Ventures has started cooperation with Carbios to build a PET enzymatic bio-processing plant by 2025 with a processing capacity of about 50,000 tons of used polyester waste. Carbios managed to produce both 100% enzymatically processed white PET fiber and bottled PET from mixed colored textile waste using its C-Zyme process.

France will also be the location for a new hybrid polymer recycling plant as part of a joint venture between Dow and Valoregen, which aims to process 70,000 tons of plastic waste per year. This is one of two fiber and plastic recycling projects announced by Dow this year, the second is related to a partnership with Mura, the developer of HydroPRS solutions for hydrothermal processing of plastics that were previously considered unsuitable for recycling. After the project is implemented, the company will be able to annually prevent millions of tons of plastic and carbon dioxide from entering the environment.

The world's first installation using Mura's HydroPRS process, in Teesside, UK, is expected to be commissioned in 2023 with a production capacity of 20,000 tons per year and will be designed to supply Dow with 100% recycled raw materials. By 2030, Dow and Mura plans to deploy advanced plastic recycling capacities of up to 600,000 tons worldwide.


Meanwhile, the ambitious ReHubs initiative envisions the creation of 150-250 new specialized textile processing centers throughout Europe in the next few years, each with an annual capacity of 50 to 100,000 tons.

ReHubs is initiated by Euratex, a Brussels-based organization that represents about 154,000 companies employing 1.47 million people in the European textile and clothing industry.

The goal is to ensure the successful processing of 2.5 million tons of textile waste in Europe from fiber to fiber by 2030.

In Europe, there is a problem of textile waste in the amount of 7-7.5 million tons, of which only 30-35% is collected today, and a very small part is returned in the form of fiber to ensure that the true value is preserved.

Eratex believes that after this new industry matures and expands, it can become profitable, and the total annual market volume will be from 6 to 8 billion euros, creating about 15,000 new jobs by 2030.

Large-scale recycling activities by both key market players and small companies are indeed the key to success in maintaining the turnover of materials - be it expensive carbon fiber or commercial synthetics, thus stimulating the beginning of the transition from the era of consumption to the era of sustainable development.


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