Boeing is Developing 787 Material Recycling

Source:  Steve Wilhelm, Puget Sound Business Journal, October 6, 2011.

A small group of Boeing engineers are working on the next pressing question for the 787 Dreamliner: How to recycle it.

The first Dreamliner delivered, to All Nippon Airways on Sept. 27 probably won’t be recycled for 30 years, but that’s giving researchers time to figure out how to do it.

But Boeing (NYSE: BA) Aircraft Recycling Project Manager Bill Carberry believes that when All Nippon’s first dreamliner is ready to be taken out of service, the technology will be ready.

“By the time the first 787s are being retired, that plane will be more recycled than aluminum aircraft,” he told a global gathering of composite industrial leaders, at the Go Carbon Fiber 2011 conference in Seattle on Oct. 6.

The question is a difficult one, requiring some way to tease apart the matrix of carbon fiber and resin that makes up a composite wing or fuselage structure, and then recover the fibers well enough that they can be used again.

A more immediate question is how to recycle carbon fibers that are surplused during production, from material that isn’t used or parts that are imperfect.

There the company is making progress, and that progress is spawning an industry hoping to capitalize from the usable material yielding.

But the one thing Boeing researcher Peter George wants to communicate is this: Boeing has no intention of making structural air frame components from recycled carbon fiber.

“We’re not going to recycle fiber into fuselages,” he said at the conference, adding that appropriate uses might be for interior structures such as luggage bins or related parts. About 30 percent of an aircraft’s weight is its interior.

But even here, anything made of recycled carbon must be as light as a similar part made from virgin material, or any environmental benefit from using recycled material will be burned up in extra fuel to lift the extra weight, he said.

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