Excess carbon fiber used in Boeing 787 Dreamliners soon will find its way to the football field.

The Chicago-based aerospace giant and sportswear-maker Russell Brands LLC will work together to use leftover carbon materials in protective athletic gear, Boeing announced Wednesday.

The first fibers will be placed in Russell Athletic's new CarbonTek-branded football shoulder pad system. The carbon filaments provide a high strength-to-weight ratio and greater durability.

Boeing routinely markets surplus factory materials to meet the company's environmental and business goals and sees opportunities, such as the collaboration with Russell, to repurpose carbon fiber as it increases the use of composites in its commercial airplanes.

Composite materials make up 50 percent of the primary structure of the 787, including the fuselage and wing, helping to make the Dreamliner 20 percent more fuel efficient than the airplane it replaces. In addition, Boeing's new 777X will have the industry's largest composite wing.

"Boeing decided to build the 787 Dreamliner with carbon composites to increase fuel efficiency for our customers and improve the passenger experience," said Julie Felgar, managing director of Boeing Commercial Airplanes environmental strategy. "Our collaboration with Russell Athletic is a fabulous opportunity to utilize the strength and lightweight characteristics of 787 carbon fiber to support elite athletes on the field."

The CarbonTek shoulder pad system has the sports industry's first-ever exoskeleton made of aerospace-grade carbon fiber, which is thinner, stronger and about 10 percent lighter compared to competitors, according to Boeing. The high-performance fiber also offers an increased range of motion and secure fit for the athlete's body.

"We are thrilled to partner with Boeing and discover new ways to utilize carbon fiber used on the 787 to make innovative, game-changing products for the sports industry," said Robby Davis, senior vice president and general manager of Russell Athletic. "It's an exciting opportunity for both companies to leverage the value of carbon fiber used in high-performance gear while helping to meet environmental goals."

Boeing assembles the 787 Dreamliner in North Charleston and Everett, Wash.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.