Exterior shot of a Boeing 787 airframe

Boeing eyes using recycled aircraft carbon fiber for cabin sidewalls


Green Wing logo with white letters against a green backdrop, and leafs on either sideBoeing is working with partners to explore ways to recycle a greater portion of its newest widebodies, including by using carbon fiber for future cabin sidewalls, Boeing technical fellow for cabin development, engineering and certification Andrew Keleher revealed on 14 May during a powerful cabin certification webinar hosted by aviation summit pioneers RedCabin and the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX).

In terms of sustainability, the recycling of certain cabin interiors continues to pose a challenge due in part to stringent regulatory requirements, including around flammability, which dictate what products can be brought on board.

“So, Boeing and our industry partners are collaborating on how to recycle, for example, from the more carbon-intense aircraft, the 787 aircraft and the 777X production. We are looking to recycle carbon fiber and use that inside the aircraft in sidewalls,” divulged Keleher.

As Runway Girl Network reported in 2017, Boeing has worked with UK-based ELG Carbon Fibre, now known as GEN2 Carbon, with a vision of recycling 100% of its carbon waste to ensure no materials go to landfill. ELG management noted at the time that the challenge is for dismantling companies to work out a way of separating the composite material from the rest of the airframe so that it can be sent for repurposing.

But such challenges are not insurmountable. APEX CEO Joe Leader, who moderated the joint RedCabin/APEX webinar, was immediately impressed with Keleher’s revelation that recycled sidewalls could be in play at Boeing, calling it “incredible” that Boeing is looking to take newer-generation aircraft carbon fiber which “is a little bit harder to recycle and using it for sidewalls”.

“That’s a great innovation,” said Leader.

United Airlines Boeing 787 window and IFE screen

Could Boeing use carbon fiber from its airframes, such as the 787, to create sidewalls? Image: Mary Kirby

But the airframer’s sustainability work does not end there. Through the years, Boeing has also used multiple aircraft types as “ecoDemonstrators” to test and refine the use of new technologies and methods to improve aviation’s environmental performance.

Indeed, as far back as 2015, the ecoDemonstrator program, in partnership with the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association, dismantled a 757 to learn more about airplane recycling in a bid to consider the full life cycle of Boeing airplanes. “And through that process we found that by weight more than 90% of the aircraft was actually recyclable,” noted Keleher.

“Half of the aircraft weight was parts used for reuse and around 40% of the material, again by weight, was recycled into other industries (pdf).” Only 10% of the twinjet’s total weight was labeled as waste and sent to landfill.


As ever, the ecoDemonstrator program remains a cornerstone of Boeoing’s eco-explorations, with Keleher noting that technologies “such as biodegradable tray tables” and “water conservation technologies” are being tested on the current ecoDemonstrator, a 777-200ER.

Moreover, Boeing last month bought 9.4 million gallons (35.6 million liters) of blended sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), marking the company’s largest annual SAF purchase, more than 60% higher than its buy in 2023. EPIC Fuels, World Fuel Services and Avfuel will supply the SAF, which is produced by Neste and World Energy.

“The blended fuel – 30% SAF made from waste by-products such as fats, oils, and greases and 70% conventional jet fuel – will support the Boeing ecoDemonstrator program and Boeing U.S. commercial operational flights,” said Boeing in a statement.

When Boeing begins any new cabin development project, said Keleher at the RedCabin/APEX event, it must consider safety, regulatory compliance, and “also for the cabin, add accessibility”, in addition to sustainability.

“And together, all four of these factors are simply the price of admission to commercial aircraft cabin development,” he declared. “All four of them need to be considered right from the start of the development process.”

He continued, “New product development is a journey of discovery. We’re going beyond where we have been in the past. And sometimes we have surprises. So, if it’s clear that our new technology can’t meet our requirements for one of those four factors then we either transform it or we look to retry it so that it can meet the requirements. The cabin typically goes through several updates during the life of the aircraft and with each update we have an opportunity to take advantage of industry progress in lightweight materials, sustainable materials, and also progress in creating a more accessible cabin.”

It’s commendable that Boeing is thinking seriously about accessibility. In fact, when the US DOT proposed that narrowbodies feature accessible lavs, the airframer somewhat surprisingly backed the idea that at least one lav on board not be permitted to shrink any further. The department has since published its new law for accessible lavs on narrowbodies.

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Featured image of 787 airframer credited to Jason Rabinowitz