Vartega Awarded Small Business Innovation Research Grant from NSF

Posted by Emily Lundberg on

Category: National

Vartega has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant for $224,998 to conduct research and development (R&D) work on carbon fiber reinforced polymer powders for additive manufacturing applications.

Vartega is leveraging its carbon fiber recycling technology and material development expertise to advance polymer feedstocks for powder bed fusion additive manufacturing. Vartega is developing a novel process that will allow thermoplastic powders to be reinforced with carbon fiber while ensuring these materials will produce functional parts in infrared additive systems. This advancement will enable digital manufacturers to realize the full potential of new powder-based hardware platforms to produce parts that perform similarly to injection molded materials at medium volume production rates.

In 2015, Vartega Carbon Fiber Recycling, LLC, received Cleantech Open's National Emerging Technology Award. Vartega Carbon Fiber Recycling has developed technology to address the issue of carbon fiber waste. Vartega specializes in the carbon fiber-reinforced plastic recycling process, developing alternative technology, processes, and equipment to provide low-cost carbon fiber for use in mass market applications. 

Vartega's recycling process develops a new low-cost grade of carbon fiber with material properties very similar to its equivalent virgin grade. The recycled fibers are much longer than traditionally recycled fibers and are used in a broad range of applications. Rather than down-cycling the recycled fibers as is typical with existing processes, the fibers retain nearly all of their virgin properties and can be sold to industry for use in new products. 

"Vartega's progress continues to accelerate as a result of the relationships built within Cleantech Open’s network. We stay in touch with several of the other companies that came through the program and it is fun to watch their success. We've also been fortunate to be able to continue to engage with our mentors and CTO staff. They have been extremely supportive and are always looking for ways to help us succeed."      

Carbon fiber was developed in the 1950s and 60s as a superior fiber reinforcement due to its excellent tensile strength. The use of carbon fiber composites is accelerating in aerospace and automotive markets as well as in sporting goods, defense, and alternative energy.

Market demands have driven improved Carbon fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP) production techniques and reduced manufacturing costs. As the cost of raw materials has declined since the early 1970s, demand for the material has grown in an inversely proportional relationship. However, the production costs for the raw material precursors and finished carbon fiber is still quite high: thereby limiting further adoption. For this reason, the market niche for sustainable lower-cost production methods is still considerable. Carbon fiber has been instrumental in advancing a range of industries through the development of new, strong light-weight materials.

Yet close to 30% of all carbon fiber is wasted as manufacturing scrap. It is expensive to produce and difficult to break down. The scrap must be sent to landfills or incinerated at high heat, incurring even more energy costs.

Vartega's alternative technology, processes, and equipment has the potential to divert thousands of tons of high-value carbon fiber scrap and waste from  landfill and incineration and leverage the recycled product for automotive and applications where it can improve vehicle fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions millions of pounds each year.

Much of the feedstock for Vartega’s process will come from high grade preimpregnated scrap material, such as that used in the aerospace industry where the scrap rate mirrors the industry rate of 30%.  This expensive carbon fiber waste from aerospace structures can be readily repurposed for use in aircraft interiors, automotive structures, wind turbine blades, and sporting goods.

Vartega's target market is the automotive industry, which stands to benefit significantly from the adoption of carbon fiber use in high volume vehicles. As regulation and market demand pushes requirements for fuel economy higher and emissions lower the easiest way to meet these demands is through vehicle light weighting given every pound saved translates to fuel economy improvements.  If just 10% of the vehicles manufactured last year utilized 100 pounds of carbon fiber the resulting market would be 4.5 billion dollars.

Meanwhile, Vartega is making inroads into the Asian aerospace market. Vartega and Sojitz Aerospace formalized an exclusive collaboration agreement on November 1, 2017 to promote Vartega’s technology and products for use in Japanese aerospace markets. This collaboration allows the partners to pursue opportunities to commercialize composites recycling technology for Sojitz Aerospace’s customers and demonstrate applications for the use of recycled carbon fiber throughout Asia.

  • By Emily Lundberg on in National

Updated on May 3, 2019 3:37 PM