ASX Composites 
                                A composite-making machine by ASX Composites of Bothell.

ASX Composites A composite-making machine by ASX Composites of Bothell.

This company has a solution to perishable carbon composites

A Bothell firm says its machines can manufacture carbon composites on site and reduce waste.

BOTHELL — Carbon-fiber composites, the materials used to build airplanes and wind turbines, are a lot like fresh fruits and veggies.

They’re perishable. They require refrigeration — and when they hit their expiration date, they’ve got to be tossed.

Some composites are recycled, but “most go straight to the landfill,” said Andy Buchan, an aerospace engineer by training.

ASX Composites, a Bothell startup, hopes to lower the manufacturing and storage costs tied to the production of composite materials, steps that could reduce the industry’s carbon footprint.

“We’re at the stage where we’re looking for partners to demonstrate our capability,” said Buchan, the company’s vice president of strategy and business development.

Some 30% to 40% of composite materials are scrapped due to their short shelf life, he said. That’s right up there with fruits and vegetables, which make up 39% of food waste in the U.S.

End users typically end up eating those costs, adding to the product’s expense, he said.

Because of the chemistry involved in making a carbon fiber composite, the material must be kept chilled.

Once you’ve cooked up a batch — and it’s usually manufactured in large quantities — “it decays rapidly,” Buchan said.

To keep it fresh, it goes into a special fridge, but it takes a boatload of electricity to store in a refrigerator the size of a small house.

ASX has developed a line of patented machines that can manufacture composite materials on site, as needed, and in small batches.

The system could be a fit for companies in need of smaller quantities, such as a sports equipment manufacturer, Buchan said. “It’s that specialty need that we’re looking to service,” he said.

ASX Composites Vice President Andy Buchan

ASX Composites Vice President Andy Buchan

ASX machines are the size of an airport shuttle and can be deployed on a factory floor.

Because the equipment can produce composite material in small quantities, there’s room to tweak the recipe.

That could include altering the chemical composition of the resin that’s mixed with the carbon fibers, a feature that can “free up design choices,” Buchan said.

That’s a switch from the current process by which composites are produced in large batches and then transported on refrigerated trucks — another energy drain — to another factory to be cut into strips or sized for a specific manufacturing application, Buchan said.

ASX machines could wrap the process into a single operation and yield savings that lower storage and transportation costs and slash greenhouse gas emissions, Buchan said.

Composite materials have been on the scene since the 1960s, but their use has exploded in the past 20 years.

Formed from graphite, carbon fibers are mixed with resin to create a composite material that’s five times stronger than steel but lighter in weight.

Lighter and more durable than most metals, composites have become a staple in the aerospace and wind turbine industry and are making inroads among high-end automakers.

The entire 235-foot wing of Boeing’s new 777X is made of a carbon fiber composite and, according to Boeing, that makes it the largest piece of composite material in the world. Plus, nearly half of the Boeing 787 is comprised of carbon fiber reinforced plastic and other composites.

“It’s an expensive material,” said Buchan, and “you don’t want to be throwing it away.”

Janice Podsada; jpodsada@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods

More in Herald Business Journal

Boeing asks that its big state tax break be suspended

The company hopes the move will resolve a trade dispute involving European rival Airbus.

Boeing finds debris in wing fuel tanks of several 737 Maxs

The company did not say what the objects were found, but one report said they included tools and rags.

Charge: Lynnwood tobacco smuggler dodged $1 million in taxes

The man, 57, reportedly dealt in illicit cigarettes. Tax returns claimed he sold hats and T-shirts.

Some dissent emerges on new engineering contract with Boeing

“This is being shoved down our throats,” said one SPEEA council rep.

FAA faces dilemma over 737 Max wiring flaw that Boeing missed

The vulnerability could lead to an emergency similar to the one that brought down two jets.

Everett’s new passenger terminal gets some national love

Paine Field was voted 8th-best among a selection of small airports, some of which aren’t all that small.

United pushes back expected return of grounded Boeing planes

United, Southwest and American are bracing for a second straight summer without their Max planes.

US manufacturing output hit by Boeing troubles, slips 0.1%

Excluding the production of airplanes and parts, factory production rose 0.3%.

Boeing and engineering union agree on new, extended contract

The board of SPEEA will recommend the proposal to its 18,000 members in the Puget Sound area.

Airbus CEO sees no short-term benefit from Boeing Max woes

The European planemaker’s competing A320 is sold out through 2025.

Virus outbreak in China poses a new problem for Boeing

A number of deliveries are ready for Chinese customers who “cannot come to Seattle to take delivery.”

Boeing wins zero orders and delivers just 13 jets in January

Airbus by comparison had a big order month, winning net orders for 274 commercial aircraft.