Boeing to Recycle Dreamliner Composites

November 10, 2011

Boeing teams with the University of Nottingham to advance carbon fibre recycling Sir Roger Bone, President of Boeing UK, launched a major new collaborative investment in carbon fibre recycling research involving Boeing Commercial Airplanes and The University of Nottingham’s Faculty of Engineering when he visited Nottingham on 24 October.

“Boeing wants to be able to recycle composite materials from manufacturing operations to improve product sustainability and to develop more efficient ways of recycling aircraft” said Sir Roger Bone, President of Boeing UK Ltd.
First introduced into military aircraft 30 years ago, carbon fibre composites are stronger and lighter than any other commonly available material. This helps reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions in aircraft making modern passenger planes, such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, sustainable and more fuel efficient.
In desert ‘aircraft graveyards’, where retired planes often go when flight service ends, good parts are removed and sold and many materials are recycled. Increasingly popular, light carbon fibre composites - or carbon fibre reinforced plastics - were once too difficult to recycle, so went to landfill.
In the past decade, researchers at Nottingham have developed ways to recycle carbon fibre composites and Boeing has collaborated with them since 2006. Boeing now plans to invest $1m per year initially for three years, but with the intention to continue with a strategic research programme - an inclusive partnership in which Boeing will collaborate with Nottingham in all its composites recycling activities.
“Aerospace is a priority research area for this University,” said Professor Andy Long, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, Professor of Mechanics of Materials and Director of the Institute for Aerospace Technology. “This recognises the sector’s potential for growth and our ability to deliver influential world-class research and knowledge transfer to address global issues and challenges.
The collaboration with Boeing will further develop recycling processes, technology to process recycled fibre into new applications and new products using recycled materials, in collaboration with other suppliers.
In April 2006, Boeing was a founding member of AFRA, the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association. AFRA is a non-profit standards-setting association for the aerospace industry. Nottingham joined two years later, and a significant part of this agreement will involve working with several other AFRA member companies on the very difficult challenge of aircraft interiors recycling. With Nottingham, Boeing is also a partner in the ongoing Technology Strategy Board (TSB) funded project AFRECAR (Affordable Recycled CARbon fibre)
“The ultimate aim is to insert recycled materials back into the manufacturing process, for instance on the plane in non-structural sustainable interiors applications, or in the tooling we use for manufacture” said Sir Roger Bone. “This work helps us create environmental solutions throughout the lifecycle of Boeing products.”