Recycled carbon fiber nonwoven mats deliver cost-effective solutions for auto lightweighting

Press molding possible using blends with thermoplastic fibers

ELG Carbon Fibre (West Midlands, UK), a market leader in recycled carbon fiber materials, has commenced production of a range of nonwoven mats on a new production line which is specifically designed to process recycled carbon fibers. The mats are available in widths up to 2.7 meters at a wide range of fiber areal weights. ELG Carbon Fibre believes the materials will strongly appeal to OEMs in the transportation sector seeking cost effective alternatives to virgin carbon fiber for vehicle lightweighting.

The new machine has been custom built to ELG Carbon Fibre’s exacting specifications. Designed and manufactured in the UK, it can produce a variety of nonwoven materials including 100% recycled carbon fiber mats and thermoplastic blends such as carbon fiber mixed with PP, PA, PPS fibers.

Recycled carbon fiber nonwoven mats can be used for the manufacture of intermediate products such as prepregs and sheet molding compounds.

The Carbiso M and TM product ranges that the carbon fiber mats and blends are sold under demonstrate excellent drapability and performance whilst delivering cost effective light weighting and significant environmental benefits compared to virgin carbon fiber. The materials may be used either on their own or with selective use of virgin carbon fibers to provide tailored structural properties.

ELG Carbon Fibre’s Carbiso M mats are ideally suited for closed mold processes and can also be used for the manufacture of intermediate products such as prepregs and sheet molding compounds for composite manufacturing. The thermoplastic Carbiso TM mats are designed for fast cycle times in press molding applications.

“With the correct design, nonwoven recycled carbon fiber can be used very successfully to manufacture low cost, lightweight structures using most high-volume manufacturing processes. It seems that new applications for these materials are being identified every week, making this an exciting and progressive time for the company and our technology,” says Frazer Barnes, Managing Director of ELG Carbon Fibre.

Extensive reconfiguration of the standard nonwoven manufacturing process was required to ensure the equipment could accept and process recycled carbon fiber. Special adaptations were made to limit fiber loss, breakage and cleaning cycles. The machine is also unique in being able to use reclaimed carbon fibers that have been obtained through pyrolysis of scrap prepreg materials or cured laminates, providing important feedstock flexibility versus existing equipment available in the marketplace which can only accept dry manufacturing waste.

The equipment features a flexible, modular based design that allows easy extension of its initial capacity of 250 tonnes/year to a maximum output of 1000 tonnes/year within 9-12 months as customer demand increases. It can produce webs ranging from 100 gsm to 500 gsm at widths up to 2.7 meters and, depending on the final mat thickness, roll lengths will range from 30-50 meters.

Before building the new machine, a two year project was undertaken by ELG Carbon Fibre’s R&D department. The essential test elements were conducted in-house on lab equipment that was reconfigured to support an initial pilot scheme and then adjusted to refine the various processes including fibre opening, feeding, web forming and consolidation of layers. These lab evaluations provided the R&D team with the critical parameters and data used to develop the final specification for the full-scale production line.

A sample of a 2.7-meter Carbiso M mat will be on display at the Experience Composites Show in Augsburg, Germany from 21-23 September (Hall 3, Booth 342).

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