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  • Writer's pictureNed Patton

Sustainability of Carbon Fiber Sports Equipment - Yes it is Happening

I saw an article in Composites World about circularity solutions in the carbon fiber sports equipment market (by Hannah Mason) that piqued my curiosity so I thought that this week I would dive a bit deeper into this subject.  My though process was something like – well I wonder where those carbon fiber golf club shafts and tennis rackets go to die anyway. 

Not surprisingly, I found that carbon fiber has made it into all sorts of sports equipment.  Things have been made using carbon fiber beyond the already known things like tennis rackets, golf clubs, helmets, snow and water skis, snow boards, kayaks, and racing sailboat masts and spars.  There were even carbon fiber reinforced swim suits in the 2016 Olympics in Rio ( 

The sporting goods industry is the fastest growing segment of the carbon fiber industry, and has become the third largest consumer of carbon fiber in the world, behind only aerospace and the top consumer – wind turbines.

So, when someone breaks a ski or hits a tree when snowboarding and breaks their board, where does the broken carbon fiber sports equipment go?  We already know that composites, and carbon fiber composites in particular, are notoriously difficult to recycle, especially if you want continuous fiber to use again in something else. 

Fortunately, there are companies and organizations that are already working on this puzzle.  There is an organization based in the UK called the World Sailing Trust that not only supports recreational and racing sailing, but also environmentally sustainable activities, products, and practices (see article cited above in carbonfibergear).  This organization has initiated a new project that they call the “Carbon Fibre Circular Demonstration Project.”  Does that sound familiar to anyone who has been reading my posts – as in Circular Economy versus Linear Economy? 

The World Sailing Trust initiated this program as a collaborative effort among several organizations they call the Carbon Fibre Circular Alliance or CFCA (sorry – Brits spell fiber differently than we do here in the US), with the intent to gather several organizations, each of which have a stake in the circular economy, and to work collaboratively on innovative technologies to enable circularity in the carbon fiber economy.  The initial technology that they are commercializing is called HiPerDiF, for High Performance, Discontinuous Fiber which uses things like a broken carbon fiber bike frame to make a new bike frame by realigning discontinuous fibers to make things like a down tube or a complete frame for a new carbon fiber bike. 

In the Composites World article where the lead pic for this post was lifted (thanks to Hannah Mason – Composites World) it is made clear that consumers of these products are increasingly interested in their sustainability.  This is a good thing of course, since sporting goods are a very high tonnage application of carbon fiber composites.  A good example of this is Scott Sports in Switzerland, where Andrew Goodman, CSR/Sustainability manager says that the company is moving toward integration of eco-responsible materials in their carbon fiber composite sports equipment. 

In addition to this, for the Olympics, it is estimated that 85% of the equipment used by the elite athletes in competition is carbon fiber composite.  This is especially true of the Olympic sailing competition boats, all of which have carbon fiber hulls.  And by the 2032 Games, to qualify a hull for use in the Games, 90% of it must be recyclable. 

I want to get back to the Carbon Fibre Circular Alliance (CFCA), because that is probably the largest and most far reaching program that is in place to enable recycling and reuse of carbon fiber composites from used up or broken sporting goods.  The CFCA is headed up by the World Sailing Trust and includes several sports federations – the Internation Tennis Federation, the International Biathlon Union, the Union Cycliste Internationale – and sporting goods manufacturers Wilson Sporting Goods, Scott Sports, Starboard in Bangkok, and One Way Sport in Finland. 

The first project that this group funded was a fully circular solution whereby broken or used up sporting goods were to be recycled in to new sports products.  They partnered with Leneat Composites (Bristo, UK) which has developed a technology for realigning discontinuous carbon fiber composites from reclaimed manufacturing scrap or end of life parts into a new continuous length unidirectional tape with very highly aligned short fibers. 

This stuff has nearly the strength and stiffness of continuous fiber unidirectional tape (see pic to the right) – predominantly because the short fibers are very well aligned and long enough that they can transfer the load to their nearest neighbors through shear of the matrix.  As long as they remain well bonded to the matrix, all of the fibers can work together to carry the load.  That’s where the “High Performance” label comes from with this stuff. 

Discontinuous fiber reinforcement with aligned fibers isn’t new.  In fact, in the mid to late 1980’s several companies including Fiberite, Dupont, and a few others in Europe took virgin carbon fiber and chopped it into staples several inches long and made aligned discontinuous tows of carbon fiber.  Since they used virgin fiber, this product didn’t take off as quickly as did continuous fiber because it was somewhat more expensive than virgin fiber and there were questions about reliability and predictability of the fiber length (  The product that Lineat makes is using end of life composites where they reclaim the carbon fiber by chopping up a structure made using continuous fiber, get rid of the resin, and realign the fibers, and make a tape that can be used for your next snow board.  And it not only has equivalent mechanical properties to virgin carbon fiber, it also is less than half the cost.  That’s a win-win in my book.

Several companies have developed related processes and launched realigned fiber products in the last several years, all using recycled carbon fiber.  And this includes some of the larger companies like Hexcel, as well as some others both here in the US and in the UK and Europe.  The Hexcel version has even caught on in the Defense side of Aerospace, where Boeing, Northrop, Albany Engineered Composites and Penn State ARL, have teamed up to demonstrate the use of this material for primary airframe structure. 

All of this from golf club shafts that get broken when someone gets mad at their new driver (even though it isn’t the fault of the driver) and breaks it over their knee, or a snowboarder runs into a tree and breaks their board – or worse their arm or their head (wear a helmet).  The reclaimed carbon fiber composite is chopped up into shorter lengths, realigned into a continuous unidirectional tape, and used to make a new golf club shaft, snowboard, or wing panel for a Boeing 787 (once the Commercial Aerospace market adopts this stuff). 

Bottom line – don’t throw out the broken golf clubs or snowboards, or that kayak you broke on a rock when you went through some gnarly white water.  Get them to a company that will recycle them into new products and keep the carbon fiber out of the landfill.

That’s about enough for this week.  There is quite a bit more to the story, so I’m going to save that for a future post, maybe even next week, who knows.  I hope everyone that reads these posts enjoys them as much as I enjoy writing them.  As usual I will post this first on my website – – as well as on LinkedIn.  And if anyone wants to provide comments to this, I welcome them with open arms.  Comments, criticisms, etc. are all quite welcome.  I really do want to engage in a conversation with all of you about composites because we can learn so much from each other as long as we share our own perspectives. 

I also wanted to remind everyone that I will be speaking at the SAMPE conference in Long Beach in May.  I’m going to be talking about the subject that I have a passion for – composites sustainability – and providing a roadmap for the industry to follow.  Maybe I can help shake up the industry a bit again, like what happened at the Carbon Fiber Conference in Salt Lake.  One can only hope.  Anyway, for anyone that is interested in materials and process engineering, SAMPE will be a great conference.  And they will have a really great exhibit as well.  So far, there are 160 or so exhibitors, so just seeing the exhibit would be worth it. 

And, finally, I still need to plug my book, so here’s the plug.  The book pretty much covers the watershed in composites, starting with a brief history of composites, then introducing the Periodic Table and why Carbon is such an important and interesting element.  The book was published and made available last August, and is available both on Amazon and from McFarland Books – my publisher.  However, the best place to get one is to go to my website and buy one.  I will send you a signed copy for the same price you would get charged on Amazon, except that I charge $8 shipping.  Anyway, here’s the link to get your signed copy:  And as usual, here’s a picture of the book, for those of you just tuning in. 


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