If you know anything about cars, you probably salivate a little bit when you hear that something is made out of carbon fiber. It’s highly valued in aviation and automotive use for its lightness and strength. But, unlike aluminum, plastics and steel, it’s also very difficult to recycle. Until now!

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Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a way to recycle almost all of the materials in certain types of thermoset carbon fiber, reports Georgia Tech Research Horizons.

From the story:

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The new method involves soaking the composites in an alcohol solvent, which slowly dissolves the epoxy that binds and gives shape to the carbon fibers. Once dissolved, the carbon fibers and the epoxy can be separated and used in new applications.

Part of what makes carbon fiber hard to recycle comes down to its polymer matrix. It is usually cross-linked and you can’t just melt it. It’s difficult to “strip away the polymer to reclaim the embedded carbon fibers, which are more valuable to recycle.”

The team focused on carbon fiber that uses a unique type of epoxy called “vitrimer epoxy,” which gives the “composite component its shape.”

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Kai Yu, a postdoctoral researcher in The George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech, said,

“Vitrimers contain dynamic bonds that can alternate their structure without losing network integrity under certain conditions. We let alcohol, which has small molecules, to participate in the network of alternating reactions, which effectively dissolved the vitrimer.”

Yu believes that this new method of recycling could have various industrial applications, in addition to economic and environmental benefits. And since it’s so simple and straightforward, it can be used in large-scale operations to help cut back on the huge amount of carbon fiber waste that gets generated every year in the United States and Europe.

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Which, to me, means that I can enjoy my McLarens guilt-free.