Juc Surf is an Australian start-up founded by a team of four surfing aerospace engineers. Yes, you read that correctly. The company has combined the group's twin passions — carbon fibre research and catching waves — to produce the world's first recycled carbon fibre surfboard. The boards are made from 100 per cent recycled carbon fibre that surrounds a foam and resin core.
Carbon fibre is a lightweight yet strong material that has revolutionised the construction of aircrafts, wind turbines and cars. But currently, lack of viable recycling options means approximately 45,000 tonnes (the equivalent of four Eiffel towers) of carbon fibre waste winds up in landfill each year.
Juc works directly with suppliers to recover carbon fibre waste and turn it into surfboards. The company is working towards circularity across the entire lifecycle of its surfboards, from design to end of life. In the design phase, Juc prioritises sustainable inputs including recycled carbon fibre, bio resin and (in the near future) recycled PET plastic. When their boards reach the end of life, the company takes them back for repair and reuse. Juc has a zero waste to landfill promise for its boards and those that can’t be repaired will be broken down into their components and used to make new boards.
CEO and co-founder of Juc, Dr. Filip Stojcevski, talks us through the process of making recycled carbon fibre surfboards at home and the company’s plan to find a use for all carbon fibre waste in the country.
"We are JUC SURF, the world's first recycled carbon fibre surfboard company. Our team currently consists of four PhDs in Aerospace Engineering and Chemistry. Each of us has spent a minimum of five years in the carbon fibre industry. This knowledge of the materials we are using means we are able to engineer and design our products to a higher degree than others who may attempt the same production process.
To paraphrase 11-time World Champion surfer Kelly Slater, when a surfer becomes a surfer, it's a moral obligation to be an environmentalist at the same time. As surfers, the ocean is our playground and home. Its downfall and degradation due to material waste and pollution impacts not only our playground now, but the playground and home that will be left over for our children and grandchildren to play on.
As aerospace engineers and carbon fibre specialists, we see a great material being wasted needlessly due to a lack of viable alternatives and a market that should exist in Australia for waste carbon fibre."
"Our mission is to take Australian carbon waste, recycle/upcycle it and use it for novel and valuable applications to reduce the environmental footprint of the Australian advanced manufacturing industry."
"Each year, 45,000 tonnes of carbon fibre enters landfill with estimates predicting this number will increase by 20 per cent by 2025. Additionally, it is estimated that 30 per cent of all carbon fibre produced never even enters a manufactured product as it becomes an off-cut during fabrication."(1-3)
"Our solution to carbon fibre waste was simple. Rather than purchasing new material from suppliers, we went directly to producers of carbon fibre waste and began to take their waste from them. In our homes, we developed basic weaving capabilities and techniques which meant we could rework this waste material into a recycled fabric. From this point we started to create recycled carbon surfboards that we loved.
Now, we are further tackling the waste problem by looking at alternative sustainable and recycled resins and foams."
"Our surfboards are working towards circularity by keeping material out of landfill. In addition to sourcing recycled materials, minimal waste is generated in the construction or end of life phases of our boards. The only waste generated in production is sticky tape and used sanding pads.
We take the following measures to reduce the impact of our boards:
The carbon we use is recycled waste carbon destined for landfill.
We are transitioning to using 100 per cent recycled PET foam core as our structural foam, which means our boards will not add any new plastic waste into surfing. We hope to make the switch by December 2021 and have conducted preliminary trials and mechanical testing in association with Deakin University to ensure the engineering is correct.
The resin we use in our production is 40 per cent epoxy-bio resin, which is the highest percentage currently available on the market. Epoxy resin is a cross-linking polymer resin that, when mixed with a hardener, creates a very hard plastic. In the past 10 years, chemists have been working to create epoxy out of bio-derived sources such as tree-sap and plants. As of yet, 100 per cent bio-derived epoxy is not available but progress is steadily increasing the overall bio-content in many resin systems. I believe in the near future Epoxy will be created using 100 per cent bio-derived resources — some people have even created plastic resins (non-epoxy) using 100 per cent vegetable oil. However, as of now, we are simply looking at the highest bio-epoxy we can find because mechanical performance requirements are also crucial to us.
If our board ever breaks, in-built into the price of our product is shipping back to our headquarters. From here, the surfboard is fully recycled by separating the foam and carbon which is recycled to make new products.
By following these steps, our boards prevent added landfill from the surfing industry and remain as circular as possible.
We are still in the start-up phase of our life, but the vision has been clear from the beginning that circular economy and recycling would be moral pillars of our company. We are investing our own capital into this company as we see a greater vision for waste carbon in Australia that may help to advance both the advanced manufacturing and sustainability sectors.
We currently do not have the capacity to compete on a mass scale with other surfboard manufacturers. However, our low volume yet extremely high-quality products are created by a team of aerospace engineers meaning we can offer a premium product to the market that we are proud of.
One barrier we have faced is the ability to recycle and upcycle carbon fibre in our own homes with little to no funding. But as our methods and technology develop, the opportunities in our company have only grown. These opportunities include being televised on ABC News Australia, being written about in WSL Magazine, being finalists in the Jan Juc Summer Surf Classic, winning the JEC Start-up Booster 2020 award for the best composites start-up as well as being publicised in countries like America, Canada, Russia, Argentina and China. This has opened many doors to our growth."
"JUC SURF is the only carbon fibre recycled surfboard in the world. Our current target is to produce surfboards that are zero new waste and zero new material production. We are transitioning to use only recycled core materials to complement our recycled fabric reinforcements. Similarly, with the purchase of our boards we have the in-built price of recycling if the board ever breaks. We hope that consumers will stick with our brand and let us know if their boards ever break to ensure they never enter landfill.
Economically, our use of waste carbon fibre means we are able to create extremely strong and lightweight boards without having to incur the large costs of buying new carbon fibre. Diving through waste bins and weaving our own fabrics was a major win for us.
Socially, our experiment with carbon waste drew unexpectedly large interest and has been the driver of our growth as a company.
We hope to use our years of experience and expertise in carbon fibre research to create a demand for recycled carbon fibre in Australia that is large enough to completely consume all carbon waste created in this country. Material need not be wasted in the development of an advanced manufacturing industry."
1 Scott F., 2019, 'The state of recycled carbon fiber' in Composites World. 2 Froemder C., 2019, Making Recycled Carbon Fibres Viable: Enhancement of Thermoplastic Composite Quality & Manufacturing Procedure Warwick, University of Warwick, United Kingdom. 3 Pimenta S. & Pinho S.T., 2012, 'The effect of recycling on the mechanical response of carbon fibres and their composites' in Composite Structures, vol. 94, no,. 12, pp. 3669-84.
"The technology to become circular for many engineering applications is currently available. However, if this change is not possible on a company-wide scale, make little changes that may aid in the effort of waste mitigation."
Visit the Juc Surf website to find out more.