Composite Recycling Technology Center gets new contract; expects to expand workforce

PORT ANGELES — The Composite Recycling Technology Center will pioneer new ways of recycling carbon fiber composite and expects to more than double its number of employees by the end of 2018, said chief executive officer Bob Larsen.

The Composite Recycling Technology Center (CRTC) recently announced a one-year $400,000 contract with the Institute for Advanced Composite Manufacturing Innovation.

The contract will support the not-for-profit’s current efforts to engineer new ways to recycle uncured carbon fiber and create new consumer products.

“It’s a great step for us,” Larsen said. “We’ve been working for a year on this contract.”

At minimum, the center’s projections look to double its staff, from 17 to 34, by the end of 2018. But Larsen hopes to far exceed that number, he said. In 2018, the CRTC is also projected to generate $4 million in economic activity in Port Angeles, he said.

“We have no lack of opportunity,” he said. “Our level of growth is only limited by the number of people we can hire.”

The new contract also will bring the CRTC one step closer to its big-picture goal of recycling 1.4 million pounds of uncured carbon fiber per year, he said.

Larsen gets downright giddy when talking about the potential for uncured aerospace carbon fiber, a substance that’s five times stronger than steel yet lighter than aluminum. He’s confident CRTC recycles some of the best of its kind, he said.

“It’s excellent, first-quality material,” he said, noting it’s just one step down from military-grade and capable of “amazing” strength and durability.

“It also has a great environmental story,” he added.

In 2016, the CRTC became the first facility in the world to transform carbon fiber composite pre-peg scrap into products. In Port Angeles, of all places, he said.

“As they say in rock ‘n’ roll, ‘It’s all happening here,’” Larsen said.

Officials have lofty ideas for products on the brain and some in the works, including pickleball nets, sundry sports equipment, bicycle parts, park benches for Port Angeles, automotive parts and other products so secret they cannot be named.

Of the pickleball nets, Larsen said, “It’s quite a wonderful, innovative design.”

He expects avid pickleball players, some in Sequim, will be excited by the net’s lightness and ease, he said. Whereas current pickleball nets constructed with steel parts are weighty to carry around and require about 20 minutes to set up, the new net design will be much lighter and can be set up in about five minutes, he said.

If CRTC continues on this trajectory and engineers a few top-selling products, they will “rapidly” expand, he said.

“We know there’s a very sharp increase in production planned for next year.”

Larsen sees the contract as a vote of confidence from the global composites recycling industry, he said.

As a young company, CRTC started with an empty shell of a building, he said. Now, he marvels at its progress, remaining “cautiously optimistic” about the not-for-profit’s future, though no doubt promising, he said.

“We’re doing our darndest to repay their [the Port of Port Angeles] confidence,” he said. “We’ll pay back all the confidence in spades.”

The CRTC, an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, was launched by the Port of Port Angeles in 2015 as an economic development initiative to respond to the growing need of the composite and aerospace industries to recycle and reuse remnants from their production processes.

The CRTC aims to create jobs and drive economic activity in Port Angeles, he said. Larsen dislikes the idea of hiring people from elsewhere — they will look to hire some of the Peninsula College students currently training in the Advanced Manufacturing-Composite Technology program, which houses classrooms, offices and lab facilities in the same building as CRTC.

“No one else in the country has that opportunity,” he said.

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Reporter Sarah Sharp can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56650, or at [email protected].

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