Exclusive Interview with Sujit Das of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL)

Smithers Rapra spoke to Sujit Das, Senior Research and Development Staff of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), to gather his thoughts at a glance on recycling life cycle analysis and the importance of research and development in the carbon fibre recycling sector.

What are your thoughts on a one-day conference dedicated to carbon fibre recycling? Why is this an important subject?

A one-day conference on carbon fibre recycling is a timely topic with the growing importance of carbon fibre use particularly in vehicle light-weighting. Carbon fibre recycling is a major issue which needs to be addressed for its overall energy, economic, and environmental sustainability perspective.

You’ve been in the life-cycle analysis sector/area of research for a number of years; do you think the perspective of recycling carbon fibre has changed over that time?

There has been recognition of the importance of carbon fibre recycling with its increasing viability in several commercial applications. Several initiatives are currently underway to recycle carbon fibres beyond the aerospace sector. It is also one of the focus research areas at the recent U.S.  Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation engaged in advanced fibre-reinforced polymer composites.

Can you put a value on the importance of research and development in the carbon fibre recycling sector?

Besides improving the cost-effectiveness of carbon fibre, carbon fibre recycling research and development is paramount from a system perspective. Since carbon fibre manufacturing is more than 30X energy-intensive than conventional steel, its life cycle energy benefits are detrimental to successful recycling at the end-of-life. New economically viable separation and recycling technologies need to be developed to meet the high projected demand growth in several near-term applications.

You specialise in automotive materials, to what extent does carbon fibre recycling factor into it?

There has only been a limited consideration of carbon fibre recycling in the automotive industry since the application of this material in the industry is still limited to the premium niche vehicles. Its immediate need been strongly felt by the industry with the introduction of the first commercial carbon fibre vehicles by BMW last year.

ORNL are doing a lot of work into alternative precursors – as new products hit the market, what impact will this have on management of the recycling process?

ORNL work on alternative precursors such as textile- and biomass-based polyacrylonitrile and lignin will have a significant impact on management of the recycling process. Renewable biomass-derived alternative precursors will significantly reduce the manufacturing energy and enable environmentally-friendly recycling.