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Specialized Steps Up Carbon Fiber Recycling

Published November 15, 2011

MORGAN HILL, CA (BRAIN)—Specialized said this week that it would extend its carbon fiber recycling program to dealers and consumers early next year.

Specialized will work with bike shops to collect damaged carbon bike frames from any brand and transport them to Materials Innovation Technologies, a South Carolina composites recycling facility already used by Specialized to recycle warranty frames or other carbon fiber parts that come back to headquarters.

Specialized will start the program with outreach to its own dealer network, opening it up to any retailer who wants to participate. Logistics are still being ironed out, but it’s designed to be cost and hassle free.

“The vision is to make it as easy as possible for both consumers and dealers to take back carbon and recycle it,” said Specialized’s Ben Delaney.

Specialized will contact its dealers in January about the specifics of how to handle carbon fiber returns and the start date for the take back program. The company will report back to the industry at next year’s Eurobike and Interbike tradeshows on the number of frames recycled, the amount of carbon fiber recovered and lessons learned.

“At that time we will make a formal call for an industry coalition to recycle carbon fiber,” said Bryant Bainbridge, sustainability specialist for Specialized. “This is a shared industry program and one we all need to address.”

Specialized estimates that thousands of carbon fiber bicycles end up in landfills every years. A notoriously difficult material to recycle, many in the industry, Trek in particular, have been working for years on how to give a second life to carbon fiber scraps from the production process. Led by the aerospace industry, progress is being made.

The process of recycling carbon fiber consists of chopping the frame into smaller sections, then burning off the epoxy that holds the fibers together in an oxygen-free environment. This results in shorter fibers with the same properties as the original material that can be used in a variety of ways, Bainbridge said.

“You’re probably not going to make a bike from recycled carbon, but you can make a range of products with the shorter fibers. For example, Boeing recycles its stabilizer fins into armrests,” he said. “Besides keeping these frames out of the landfill, you’re recovering carbon with significantly less energy than it took to make virgin material.”

The goal is to extend the recycling program to the European Union as well.

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