As the world continually takes steps forward in manufacturing and technology, products are built using more advanced materials and become more sophisticated, but also more complicated.
This presents a problem when these products reach the end of their useable life, as they’re either difficult or expensive to recycle, or both.
For example, as the world transitions to electric vehicles, disposing of their used batteries, some made with highly toxic materials, will be a challenge.
As it stands, many advanced products either end up in landfill or incinerated, and that is a waste of valuable resources and harmful to the planet.
One material, that up until now has been difficult to recycle, is carbon fibre.
However, a UNSW Canberra researcher has developed a new method to recycle it in a way that not only means less of the material is wasted, but also uses less energy and leaves more of it intact and able to be turned into more useful new products.
Carbon fibres are thin strands of carbon that are exceptionally strong and lightweight. The fibres are combined with plastic to create a composite which can be used to construct a variety of products.
Carbon fibre is commonly used to build aircraft, wind turbines, and it is the primary material used in Formula 1 cars, which need to be as light as possible to increase performance. You might encounter carbon fibre in high-end bicycles and other sporting equipment like hockey sticks or tennis racquets.
UNSW Canberra researcher Di He said that, until now, recycling carbon fibre had always resulted in the material being heavily degraded.