IBU joins Olympic Sports alliance to tackle carbon fibre circularity

To celebrate Earth Day 2022, a ground-breaking project sees the launch of an alliance of International Federations, leading sports manufacturers, composite specialists, and academics collaborating to support a demonstration project to reuse and realign carbon fibres.

An innovative example of multi-sport collaboration, the Carbon Fibre Circular Demonstration Project is based on the reuse of carbon components within the sports sector that aims to engage equipment end-users in the process of making carbon circular.

Coordinated by the World Sailing Trust, the charitable organisation affiliated with World Sailing, the alliance’s contributing members include World Sailing, the International Biathlon Union, and Wilson Sporting Goods, supported by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), International Tennis Federation (ITF) and Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) as well as sports equipment manufacturers OneWay, an IBU supplying partner, Scott Sports and Starboard.

Carbon fibre is a high performing material used in a variety of industries. Weight and strength properties have resulted in the material being widely used in sport equipment, especially in elite-level competition. The use of the material is growing, and sport represents the third-largest user of the material behind aerospace and the wind turbine industry.

However, carbon fibre cannot be remelted and recycled like aluminium and, to date, no sustainable end of life solution has been available for carbon fibre.

The alliance is working with Lineat Composites, University of Bristol, and the National Composite Centre in Bristol, the United Kingdom, on a demonstration project to show how it is possible to reclaim broken/failed carbon components from a particular sports sector through a novel process that realigns the fibres into unidirectional prepreg tapes utilising the innovative HiPerDiF process system.

New technical carbon tapes will then be supplied to component manufacturers within the alliance to integrate into new technical components for reuse. A typical example would take a broken carbon bike component and utilise the fibres to make new tapes and use them in a second life in a carbon ski pole, a sailing component, or a tennis racket

The project looks at taking the broken component, realigning its fibres, and then reusing that carbon fibre to make a new component. The process, not dissimilar to a high-tech paper making process, produces carbon fibre tape that early results from this demonstration project show are, in some cases, better than the original virgin fibre.

The manual R&D machine based at the National Composite Centre allows Lineat Composites and the research team from the University of Bristol, to align carbon fibres manually, but the machine in the next stage of the process will allow Lineat to commercialise and align around 80 billion fibres daily, which when placed in a line will go around the world three times.

IBU President Olle Dahlin stated: “Carbon fibres have greatly helped enhance the performance of biathlon competition equipment in recent years. Unfortunately, there is no sustainable solution to reuse and recycle carbon so far. The IBU is proud to be part of this ground-breaking Olympic sports industry alliance that is working to find practical solutions for carbon circularity. We hope to see the entire industry join the project and that we altogether succeed in engaging the equipment end-users in making carbon circularity a mainstream practice for all sports enthusiasts.

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