Cost-effective recycling has been the holy grail of the carbon fiber industry for at least a decade. Find a way to effectively recycle the waste and you simultaneously solve the landfill problem and bring the price of carbon fiber down. Thankfully, great strides have been made in recent years. New surfboards being fabricated in Australia provide ample evidence.
A company known as JUC Surf is the brainchild of three carbon fiber researchers at Australia’s Deakin University. The three have extensive experience working with carbon fiber in the aviation and automotive industries. As they work on completing their PhDs, they are also running a company that transforms recycled carbon fiber waste into surfboards.
Theirs is no ordinary waste, however. There is something special about it; something that allows them to use carbon fiber to build surfboards that are every bit as tough and rider-friendly as fiberglass boards. For the record, fiberglass has been the go-to material for surfboard fabricating for the better part of 50 years.
It Takes All Kinds
Recycled carbon fiber waste comes in multiple forms these days. You can get it chopped, milled, and in reclaimed fiber or tissue form. JUC Surf doesn’t use just one type. They couldn’t if they expected to build a surfboard capable of withstanding boisterous seas. No, it takes all kinds of carbon fiber waste to make a JUC board.
They use a significant amount of chopped fiber to give their boards bulk. Milled fiber is added to toughen up the epoxy resin while reclaimed fiber and tissue are added in strategic locations to give a board extra rigidity in key spots. All four types of recycled material are combined in a strict formula to achieve exactly the results JUC Surf wants.
The company works with multiple suppliers to ensure they get what they want in the recycled material. They are very specific about density, weave pattern, shape, and even surface treatment. They have to be if they hope to displace fiberglass as the preferred material for surfboards.
Designing Strength into a Board
Engineers in Salt Lake City’s Rock West Composites explain that carbon fiber’s rigidity is directly related to the orientation of its fibers. Strength exists along the lines of those fibers in whatever direction they travel. That is why fabric weave patterns are observed in some carbon fiber parts.
Weaving carbon fiber threads to create fabric is one way to increase strength via intersecting threads. The more intersections, the greater the strength of the product in all directions. However, JUC Surf goes one step further by aligning fibers in specific directions at strategic locations on a given board.
Where they need extra strength, they can place additional layers of material in the desired orientation. Where extra strength is not needed, they do not have to be as careful. In the end, each board becomes a custom-designed piece of work that is strong overall but extra strong where it needs to be.
Cheaper Carbon Fiber Boards
Carbon fiber is more expensive these days because the material itself is expensive. But as recycling methods mature alongside fabrication methods, prices should come down. A few years from now surfers should have access to a full range of cheaper carbon fiberboards.
The rest of the industry will be keeping an eye on JUC Surf and how they use recycled carbon fiber waste. Their surfboards could end up being a model for other fabricators to follow. From aerospace to automotive and sporting to household goods, plenty of manufacturers are looking to get on the carbon fiber bandwagon.