A firm in Port Angeles has figured out a way to make pickleball paddles out of plane scraps.
The Composite Recycling Technology Center makes the paddles from recycled carbon fiber composites. These materials are super strong and lightweight.
When a company like Boeing builds its 787 Dreamliner, for example, it has to cut sheets of carbon fiber composites into the right shapes for different parts of the plane. But that same company may not have the resources to figure out how to recycle its leftovers.
"Their main job is to build these airplanes," said Robert Larsen, CEO of the CRTC. "And they're saying, 'You want me to devote engineers and floor space and ... time to pick up these scraps and do something with them?'"
Until now, millions of pounds of scrap carbon fiber composites just ended up in landfills, according to the Washington State Department of Commerce. The goal was to make a product from those leftovers that could be sold to a broad market.
"It turns out ... a sporting good like this, a little paddle, takes advantage of the lightweight and high-stiffness of this material," Larsen said.
The CRTC chose pickleball paddles from a long list of possible products. The paddles are small, and pickleball is a fast-growing sport, Larsen said.
The U.S.A Pickleball Association estimates that an average of 76 new places to play the sport open each month in North America.
The CRTC was awarded a federal grant to continue its production and research. Larsen said he hopes the paddles show that innovation isn't limited to big cities like Seattle.
"Even though we're a rural area that's known for its natural beauty and its natural resources, we can bring cutting edge, high-tech manufacturing to this community," Larsen said.
The firm is partnering with a Kent-based pickleball supply company and hopes to begin selling the paddles in February.