WSU Researchers develop recyclable composites Washington State University

WSU Researchers develop recyclable composites

A WSU research team has created a recyclable carbon-fiber reinforced composite that could eventually replace the non-recyclable version used in everything from modern airplane wings and wind turbines to sporting goods.

Led by Jinwen Zhang, professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, researchers developed a recyclable material that is as strong as commonly used carbon-fiber composites and can also be broken down in very hot water within a pressure vessel. The new material could be easily substituted into current manufacturing processes. The research team, including scientists from the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Zhang’s team developed a composite material that uses an epoxy vitrimer as an alternative to the traditional epoxy resin. The material is hard and durable like an epoxy thermoset but can also show self-healing and malleable properties at high temperatures like a thermoplastic.

“There is no need to change the chemistry of the process – it is just a slight modification of using the epoxy vitrimer instead of traditional epoxy,” Zhang said. “The technology is simply and readily applicable.”

Visible Legacy Comment

While the new recyclable material could be easily adopted by manufacturers, Zhang is also continuing work to improve recycling of the composites that are currently in the market. In recent years, he developed an environmentally friendly method to break down the material in a liquid or ethanol medium. The Lab has received ongoing grants from Department of Energy grant for the upcycling of the composites waste. Corporate licensing professionals tracking recyclable composites can learn more by visiting the Zhang Lab in Visible Legacy Navigator.