Many times stronger than steel and less than half the weight of aluminum, carbon fiber composite scrap – once considered worthless – took center stage today in a press conference with a twist, hosted by the Washington State Department of Commerce at the Museum of Flight.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Jay Williams announced a $500,000 i6 Challenge grant to the Composite Recycling Technology Center (CRTC) of Port Angeles, Clallam County. Funding is part of the Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS) program, an initiative to spur innovation capacity-building activities in regions across the nation.
Following brief remarks, a portable net was unfurled and Williams and CRTC CEO Robert Larsen each grabbed pickleball paddles made from carbon fiber composite scrap and faced off with a whiffle ball.
The friendly game heralded another important milestone for the CRTC: the quiet, lightweight pickleball paddles manufactured there are the world’s first retail product produced from uncured carbon fiber (also known as “pre-preg”) composite scrap. (Pickleball, invented in 1965 by former state Congressman Joel Pritchard on Bainbridge Island, is one of the fastest growing sports in North America with over three million players globally.)
“The Port Angeles Composite Recycling Technology Center is revolutionizing advanced manufacturing while creating jobs locally,” said Assistant Secretary Williams. “As America’s Innovation Agency, the U.S. Department of Commerce plays a key role in supporting the entrepreneurs and job creators of tomorrow. Congratulations to CRTC on receiving the RIS award and for their contributions in workforce training programs, building infrastructure and promoting innovation here in Washington State.”
“Making Pickleball paddles out of carbon fiber composite isn’t new – but making them out of scrap carbon fiber composite is groundbreaking. That’s because – until now – no one has been able to prove there is value in scrap aerospace carbon fiber composite. It has been considered worthless, and that’s why 29 million pounds of it ends up in our country’s landfills every year. But today, CRTC is proving to the world that recycling it doesn’t just make good environmental sense, it makes good business sense,” said Robert Larsen, CEO of the Composite Recycling Technology Center.
“Bold innovation is found in every corner of Washington state, not just our high-tech research and development centers around Seattle,” said Commerce Director Brian Bonlender. “CRTC’s work is proving that it’s possible to both grow the economy and protect the environment. The Clean Energy Fund is proud to be among the numerous public and private partners committed to bringing world-leading clean tech manufacturing jobs to the peninsula. Together we are strengthening this community for the future.”
The Washington State Clean Energy Fund has invested $2.7 million in the CRTC’s work to develop and manufacture clean technology products and reduce waste from composite manufacturing. Even though today’s advanced carbon fiber composite is used for many high performance items, from automobiles, airplanes and boat hulls to wind turbine blades, safety clothing and fishing rods, an estimated 29 million pounds of scrap ends up in U.S. landfills each year because the material has been considered too difficult to recycle and there is no proven market for it.
CRTC is changing that.
A Clean Energy Fund matching grant announced in September helped to purchase advanced waterjet equipment made in Kent, WA from Flow Corporation. CRTC will use it when serial manufacturing and shipping of their revolutionary SWIFT Aero Paddles begins in January.
The Port of Port Angeles has been instrumental in launching the CRTC, investing $3.3 million to match the state’s grants and enabling the CRTC to get on its feet. U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell and U.S. Representative Derek Kilmer have consistently supported the CRTC and its mission. The center has accumulated over $5 million in local, state, federal and private funding since its formation in 2015.
“This first-ever recycled carbon fiber composite product is a major milestone for the Port of Port Angeles and the Carbon Recycling Technology Center. Today’s announcement of the $500,000 Innovation Accelerator grant will push CRTC to new heights and demonstrates their innovation is a strong, economic driver that creates new, good-paying jobs,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell.
“This is all about jobs and economic opportunity for our region, and that's why I lent my support to this grant application. Securing these funds is great news for the future of advanced manufacturing in Port Angeles,” said Representative Derek Kilmer. “Our composite recycling center, one of the first in the nation, is already showing that the Peninsula can be a hub for groundbreaking innovation. Now, this national investment will give entrepreneurs the tools they need to take yesterday’s recycled parts and turn them into advanced products. It will also encourage the growth of quality jobs in our region by giving local people the skills they need to build a career working with composites.”
Public and private partners in the successful Innovation Accelerator proposal include Peninsula College, Profile Composites, Altair Engineering, the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, Impact Washington, and the Composites Washington Consortium.
In addition, Toray Composites America is providing the scrap material. The company is key to an Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI) research and development project with Janicki industries and Globe Manufacturing, to produce lightweight automotive structural parts.