It’s an unfortunate fact there is no clear way to recycle the cycling industry’s carbon fiber, and every year broken carbon fiber simply ends up in landfills. Specialized have already announced their intent to recycle carbon frames; now they’ve come up with a plan to do it.
Starting in February 2012, riders will be able to take broken frames and components, regardless of brand, to participating Specialized dealers. After which, Specialized will collect the carbon and transport them to Materials Innovation Technology for recycling, the same material handling company Trek currently use. “Specialized is committed to addressing what happens to our bikes at end of life because it’s the right thing to do, but this program isn’t about being brand exclusive,” said Bryant Bainbridge, Specialized’s sustainability strategist via press release. “Trek is also doing good work here and every company in the industry that produces carbon products is encouraged to join in the effort.”
Specialized plan to report back to the industry at the 2012 Eurobike and Interbike shows, regarding: number of frames recycled, the amount of carbon fiber recovered, and what has been learned. “At that time we will make a formal call for an industry coalition to recycle carbon fiber,” Bainbridge said. “This is a shared industry problem and one we all need to address. We are going to pick up the tab now, but we want everyone on board. This is about collaboration, not egos. Come Eurobike, we’ll share everything we’ve learned.”
Trek, who produce their top tier carbon frames and components in the US, claim to recycle between 3,500 and 4,500lb (1,590-2,040kg) of scrap each month, which include warranty frames, frames and parts that have been tested or broken in testing, uncured trimmings, and out-of-spec molded parts.
Materials Innovation Technology’s carbon fiber recycling process is a product of their composite manufacturing business, where they use chopped carbon to make complex composite preforms for the aerospace and automotive industries.
The recycling program came about as a way to source chopped carbon through a successful carbon recycling experiment with Boeing. “I went looking for that [waste composites], but nobody reclaims composites right now,” Jim Stike, MIT’s founder and CEO told BikeRadar. “With fiberglass there’s no economic viability to doing it. Fiberglass is so cheap, it’s worth more to throw away and start over with new, but carbon fibers are not cheap and if they are properly reclaimed, they can be reused.”
The result is shorter fibers with the similar properties as the original material. “You’re probably not going to make a bike from recycled carbon, but you can make a range of products with the shorter fibers,” Bainbridge. “Besides keeping these frames out of the landfill, you’re recovering [useable] carbon with significantly less energy than it took to make virgin material.”