Federal Stimulus Boosts Carbon Composite Hopes

New ORNL facility will produce carbon fiber made from low-cost feedstocks such as biomass-derived lignin.

corvettezr1Oak Ridge National Labs (ORNL) in Tennessee is finishing construction of a pilot plant that will be able to produce up to 25 tons per year of carbon fiber from low-cost lignin and other feedstocks.

Successful startup of the technology could pave the way for much wider use of carbon-fiber composites in cars, wind turbines and other industrial applications.

“Through its investment in the Carbon Fiber Technology Facility (CFTF), the federal government is facilitating the commercialization of a full-scale manufacturing process for carbon fiber that is cheap enough to be purchased by auto and wind turbine companies,” says Fred Baker, a scientist in the Materials Science and Technology Div.’s (MSTD) Carbon Materials Technology group.

The U.S. Dept. of Energy last year provided ORNL with $34.7 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding to build the Carbon Fiber Technology Facility. The funding will allow ORNL to consolidate its carbon-fiber composite research from three scattered buildings.

The ORNL estimates that every 10 percent reduction in vehicle weight increases by 5 to 8 percent the miles a vehicle can travel for the same input of energy. The weight of an engine could be reduced up to 60 percent if carbon composites were used extensively in the vehicle.

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Source: Doug Smock, Contributing Editor, Materials and Assembly | Design News
Photo: Chevrolet — The Corvette ZR1 makes extensive use of carbon composites to reduce weight and boost performance.