Trek pleased with a year of carbon recycling

US brand pronounce scheme a success

by   April 24, 2012  

TK11_Madone_RNT_3qtrs_Schwalbe

A year after piloting the bike industry’s first carbon fibre recycling programme, Trek have announced that over 70,000lb (31,750kg) of the material has been recycled from its manufacturing facility in Wisconsin, USA.

Since April last year, all manufacturing scraps, non-compliant frame components, and select reclaimed warranty frames from this facility have undergone processing at the Material Innovation Technologies (MIT) facility in South Carolina. It is repurposed for use in reinforced thermoplastics including aerospace, automotive, medical and recreational products.

“We’re really proud of the results that we have had in just one year,” said Trek’s Senior Composites Manufacturing Engineer Jim Colegrove. “Now that carbon has become such a commonly used material in cycling, it’s important for all brands to consider the entire lifecycle of a product.”

Trek began manufacturing their OCLV (optimum compaction low void) carbon frames 20 years ago and now has a huge range of carbon-fibre models in both the road and mountain bike markets. 

It's not just in the US that Trek have got into recycling carbon fibre, it's a similar story in the UK - although here it has been a case of dealing solely with crash-damaged product.

“We were recycling carbon in the UK for a couple of years prior to this programme starting," said Trek UK’s Chris Garrison. "We would send crashed frames returned to us from retailers off to a company called ELG Carbon Fibre, who would mill the frames for use in producing non-structural carbon products. We eventually started paying ELG to reclaim the carbon for us, after we sent them more than their normal capacity could handle. It was worth the expense to give the frames a second life as something else.

“Now, we also send our carbon goods to MIT for recycling. We have a container here that we ship back to the US once it’s full.

“We now have a method for recycling carbon in the manufacturing process. We were doing it first here with damaged frames, but there was still no solution for the manufacturing side of things given the quantity of carbon excess. Now there is.”

Although carbon fibre couldn’t be described as the most environmentally friendly material known to man, Trek is keen to emphasise the efforts it makes in sustainability. They use recycled aftermarket packaging for their Bontrager components, for example, and source frames and components from neighbouring factories to reduce shipping emissions. They’ve also converted their facility in Waterloo Wisconsin to run on wind power.

10 user comments

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This can only be good news.

posted by rodmc [24 posts]
24th April 2012 - 12:17

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Is there anywhere in the UK that recycles composites.

I have a crash damaged frame and I'd rather it was recycled appropriately than just left in a land fill.

posted by NoMapNoCompass [30 posts]
24th April 2012 - 12:41

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Good for the environment and their bottom-line. They probably had to pay to take the waste away before, now they possibly get paid for it.

posted by thebongolian [37 posts]
24th April 2012 - 12:50

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Well done Trek.

posted by Super Domestique [1592 posts]
24th April 2012 - 14:39

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thebongolian wrote:
Good for the environment and their bottom-line. They probably had to pay to take the waste away before, now they possibly get paid for it.

Maybe, who knows? But what's the problem with that?

posted by Mat Brett [1818 posts]
24th April 2012 - 15:03

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NoMapNoCompass wrote:
Is there anywhere in the UK that recycles composites.

I have a crash damaged frame and I'd rather it was recycled appropriately than just left in a land fill.

Hello! Before MIT, we used to recycle frames here with a company called ELG: http://www.recycledcarbonfibre.com/

And @thebongolian: when we started recycling frames here, ELG just received them from us. We outgrew their capacity, so we did start to pay them to take the frames from us. We did this willingly, as it was a much better alternative to throwing the frames in a landfill.

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posted by TrekBikesUK [95 posts]
24th April 2012 - 15:20

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Mat Brett wrote:
thebongolian wrote:
Good for the environment and their bottom-line. They probably had to pay to take the waste away before, now they possibly get paid for it.

Maybe, who knows? But what's the problem with that?

No problem at all. In fact a very good thing - it's depressing how many good environment things you can do and save yourself yourself money yet people don't do them.

posted by thebongolian [37 posts]
24th April 2012 - 15:25

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Quote:
It is repurposed for use in reinforced thermoplastics including aerospace

If it is good enough to be reused in aerospace I wonder why trek don't just reuse it themselves for frames and components...unless I'm missing something here...

posted by adibm [8 posts]
26th April 2012 - 10:14

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NoMapNoCompass wrote:
Is there anywhere in the UK that recycles composites.

I have a crash damaged frame and I'd rather it was recycled appropriately than just left in a land fill.

Recycling of carbon composites currently involves generally burning off the epoxy matrix (pyrolysis) to recover the carbon or otherwise removing and disposing of the destroyed epoxy polymer. Reprocessing recycled carbon fibres into usable product is expensive and difficult and anything other than grinding down into carbon black filler material is not much more than an academic activity.

If you live in an area (such as Sheffield) with waste incineration+heat recovery, chucking it in the bin will result in it being turned into a combination of district heating, electricity and usable ash product and like it or not, that's probably the most energy-efficient and environmentally sound way of dealing with waste, non aero-grade carbon composites.

Another, less fire-based alternative is give it to your local university composite materials research group. This is exactly what Trek are doing; supplying a university with waste composite so they have the material to work with to develop better ways of recovering useful things from waste, along with research into damage detection, composite repair etc. If you do this, at worst it could continue its life as a display piece.

Steve

posted by stevej [1 posts]
26th April 2012 - 12:31

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adibm wrote:
Quote:
It is repurposed for use in reinforced thermoplastics including aerospace

If it is good enough to be reused in aerospace I wonder why trek don't just reuse it themselves for frames and components...unless I'm missing something here...

Because the new products are non-structural, and all of our carbon parts are structural and load bearing. It's the strands of fibre, layed up in multi-directional patters, that provide the strength and stiffness of a bicycle frame. Recycled carbon could not, as far as we know, be recreated into unidirectional strands for use in a carbon layup.

The technology just hasn't advanced that far yet. Maybe it has for NASA, but if so, they ain't telling us. Cool

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posted by TrekBikesUK [95 posts]
26th April 2012 - 12:52

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