News & Views

A second life for carbon fiber: The Vartega story

April 18, 2024 | Andrew Maxey

Denver-based Vartega is developing a new market for recycled carbon fiber. In this guest post, co-founder and CEO, Andrew Maxey recounts how a curiosity about bicycle frames ultimately became the foundation of a multi-million dollar business.

Andrew Maxey, Co-founder and CEO of Vartega

Carbon fiber is an incredible material. It’s strong, lightweight, durable and extremely versatile. But, as anyone with an interest in bicycles appreciates, it is also very expensive to produce.

That was how my own interest in carbon fiber began: In the late nineties, carbon fiber was all the rage to make bikes stronger, lighter, and faster, and in high school I worked in a bicycle shop in Traverse City, MI. One customer had bought a beautiful carbon fiber bike made by Kestrel, but had forgotten that it was on the roof rack of their car when they drove into their garage. The frame was badly damaged and unfortunately, couldn’t be saved. For all its durability, at that time there wasn’t an obvious way to recycle or repurpose the material. This was doubly distressing, given how energy-intensive the production of carbon fiber is in the first place.

But what was a high school kid going to do about it?

An idea that stuck

Fast forward a decade. With a degree in mechanical engineering and a variety of jobs later, my interest in carbon fiber composites had deepened. I had remained curious about what was so special with carbon fiber and why it was so expensive to produce.

The call of the Rockies led me and my family to Colorado, where I was recruited to work for a startup that was processing textiles without water. It was there I learned that carbon fiber is really a high-value textile, and how different it is from traditional materials like steel, aluminum, and titanium.

After successfully helping commission two US domestic prototypes and deploying the company’s first commercial system in Korea, I got into midstream oil and gas, with a desire to help the energy industry become more efficient and sustainable. I soon began to realize that the equipment and techniques used in oil and gas processing could be leveraged for other materials processing, including carbon fiber composites.

My interest was piqued, so I decided to do some market research and soon learned about the massive waste issues in the composites industry. There were some pioneers recycling carbon fiber utilizing a thermal process called pyrolysis but not much had been done with chemistry. My hypothesis was that a suitable chemistry could be used to do the heavy lifting to recycle carbon fiber composites. So, I decided to clear out the garage and start experimenting in my spare time.

As with testing any new hypothesis, this led to several surprises and insights as well as many failures. Eventually, I stumbled across a set of process conditions that showed promise.

In 2014, Vartega was born and I began recruiting the help of friends and former colleagues to take the idea to the next level. I undertook additional market research and came to understand the supply chain challenges associated with composites recycling. I was convinced of the market need and that we were on to a potential solution. Additional development led to a better understanding of the customer problem and the unmet demand for low-cost carbon fiber for high-volume applications in the automotive industry.


Our real breakthrough came with the innovation of densifying recycled carbon fiber into a format for use in thermoplastics. This is our patented EasyFeed bundle format, which is being used as a lower cost and more sustainable alternative to virgin carbon fiber in cars, consumer electronics, sporting goods, additive manufacturing, and many other applications.

Our partnership with HG Ventures

I first met HG Ventures at a SXSW event in the early days of getting our business off the ground. It was some years before we were ready to take on outside funding, and throughout that time, the HG Ventures team remained in contact, and remained encouraging of our journey.

So, when the time came to raise a serious seed round, we wanted HG Ventures to be part of it.

The Vartega team celebrated the grand opening of their new composites recycling center in May 2023.

That investment enabled us to scale our production capacity by a factor of 10 and move into a new 82,000 sq ft facility last year. It was a significant upgrade from the origins in my garage, and a world away from the bike shop.

These days, carbon fiber is everywhere, from the dashboard of your car to the wind turbines you may drive past, to the airplane flying overhead. So, not only is the market opportunity for our recycled product significant, so too is the chance to make manufacturing more sustainable.

To find out more about how Vartega is elevating supply chains and using the earth’s resources more responsibly, contact: