Grant Bradley

Aviation, tourism and energy writer for the Business Herald

Oracle links up with Boeing to recycle carbon fibre from America's Cup yacht

Oracle links up with Boeing to recycle carbon fibre from America's Cup yacht.

Boeing uses composites in all its aircraft, particularly the 787 Dreamliner 
which is 50 per cent carbon fibre. Photo / Grant Bradley
Boeing uses composites in all its aircraft, particularly the 787 Dreamliner which is 50 per cent carbon fibre. Photo / Grant Bradley

Boeing and Oracle Team USA are working together again - this time on a project to recycle more than three tonnes of carbon fibre from an America's Cup campaign yacht that sailed in Auckland.

The two organisations said the recycling project would help them understand how they can re-use composite material from aircraft and yachts in the future.

Oracle's USA71 - used in the buildup for the team's failed 2003 Cup bid - will be broken up and processed.

Oracle's USA71 - seen here on its cradle in the Auckland Viaduct - will be broken up and processed. Photo / Richard Robinson
Oracle's USA71 - seen here on its cradle in the Auckland Viaduct - will be broken up and processed. Photo / Richard Robinson

The hull will be cut into 1.2m sections and the mast will be chopped into pieces before it is processed; about 75 per cent of the recycled composites will come from the hull and the remaining 25 per cent from the mast.

Boeing and Oracle expected to gather data about the mechanical properties, costs and time flows to recycle sailing-grade composite materials in comparison to aerospace-grade and automobile-grade composites.

Although the companies have not determined the post-recycling use of the yacht's carbon fibre, potential end uses include consumer and industrial products, they said.

Boeing uses composites in all its aircraft, particularly the 787 Dreamliner which is 50 per cent carbon fibre which allows a lighter, simpler structure and does not fatigue or corrode.

Oracle Team USA's logistics head Chris Sitzenstock said the introduction of composites in yacht construction was a major step in the sport.

"The materials and processes have continued to evolve, allowing us to build the high-tech, high-speed AC72 catamarans raced in this year's America's Cup," he said.

"Now, we have the ability to work with Boeing to take the next steps in composite recycling, and to help reduce our environmental footprint. We will also look to recycle carbon components remaining from the build of our yachts."

While there was speculation about the extent of Boeing's input into last month's successful Cup defence in San Francisco, Sitzenstock told the Herald direct involvement with developing the AC72 was limited but connections with Boeing were "everywhere".

Large scale tooling was done by Janicki Industries, a Boeing supplier.

When the team had to build daggerboards at a "record pace" it turned to Machinist Inc, a Boeing supplier for machined metal spars.

"When we needed technical help for non-destructive testing or required drawings of a 747 cargo plane to see if a component can be transported, we called our friends at Boeing. From large scale CNC (three dimensional manufacturing) machines to carbon supplies we can build what we did because Boeing paved the way in aerospace," said Sitzenstock.

The winning AC72 catamaran was now being packed for storage.

A Boeing spokeswoman said the aim was to create a closed-loop manufacturing including returning composites from retired aircraft as well as manufacturing scrap back into the aerospace supply chain.

"Currently the technology isn't available to recycle our carbon fibre scrap and return it to wide-scale manufacturing. Again, this is exactly why we are investing in research."

- NZ Herald

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