Carbon fiber is a key ingredient to our energy future. This lightweight, ultra-strong material can help make clean energy technologies more efficient, durable and reliable. To help lower the production cost of carbon fiber, the Energy Department’s Vehicles Technologies Office (VTO) established the Carbon Fiber Technology Facility (CFTC) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
VTO and the Energy Department’s Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO) now support operations at CFTC, a key part of the Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative. The CFTC, the first facility of its kind in the United States, enables companies to test low-cost carbon fiber for use in several industries including the rapidly growing clean energy market. A few ways the clean energy industry uses carbon fiber are below.
In America’s record-smashing wind industry, demand for carbon fiber is increasing as manufacturers build larger turbines with longer blades for land-based wind energy systems as well as new offshore wind projects. Find out how the Energy Department’s Wind Program works with U.S. manufacturers to improve the design and production of blades and other components used in wind energy systems.
Reducing the weight of vehicles can greatly improve fuel efficiency in cars and trucks on our nation’s roadways. In fact, innovative carbon fiber composites could reduce passenger car weight by half and improve fuel efficiency by nearly 35%. VTO works to improve lightweight materials, including carbon fiber, through innovative research and development.
Carbon fiber composite trailers manufactured by Hexagon Lincoln in Nebraska can deliver hydrogen to cars, trucks, buses and other vehicles throughout the country that are powered by fuel cell technologies. The lightweight vessels can haul more than 720 kilograms of hydrogen, more than double the amount that can be carried in traditional steel tube trailers. Hexagon Lincoln received funding through the Energy Department‘s Fuel Cell Technologies Office to help develop the trailers.
In an effort to make carbon fiber even more sustainable, the Energy Department’s Bioenergy Technologies Office just announced funding to develop a new process that produces carbon fiber precursors from renewable non-food-based biomass feedstocks such as corn stover. In addition to displacing fossil fuel feedstocks like petroleum and natural gas, the renewable carbon fiber could then be incorporated into vehicle components, reducing the vehicle’s overall weight and increasing fuel efficiency.
Carbon fiber’s strength, durability, low weight, and other properties make it an important material for technologies used in the clean energy industry.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has selected Southern Research Institute (SRI) for an award of up to $5.9 million to advance production of high-performance, low-cost carbon fibers from biomass. The DOE award will fund development of a multi-step catalytic process for conversion of sugars from non-food biomass to acrylonitrile — a key precursor in the production of carbon fiber.
Industrial demand for carbon fiber continues to grow in a number of fields including defense, space, aviation, automotive, and wind turbine production due to its high strength and light weight. Southern Research Institute is exploring novel methods of producing acrylonitrile and other bio based chemicals and fuels using renewable, non-food-based biomass feedstocks, such as agricultural residues and woody biomass.
Carbon fiber is a strong, lightweight material that can replace steel and other heavier metals. Current production methods have limited its use, but by leveraging these renewable sources, its use could be broadened, potentially improving performance of fuel-efficient vehicles and renewable energy components such as wind turbine blades. Carbon fiber derived from biomass may be less costly to manufacture and offer greater environmental benefits than traditional carbon fiber produced from natural gas or petroleum.
“At Southern Research we have developed an innovative, elegant process concept, which utilizes biomass derived sugars from any source, allowing for the use of a variety of biomass feedstocks, to produce acrylonitrile,” said Dr. Amit Goyal, senior chemical engineer and principal investigator for Southern Research Institute. “This process could not only potentially improve economics, but may also improve the overall environmental footprint of carbon fiber production when compared to traditional manufacturing methods.”
The bio-based acrylonitrile produced by Southern Research Institute’s process will be validated by a major carbon fiber manufacturer, and compared with petroleum-based acrylonitrile as a potential direct substitute. The New Jersey Institute of Technology will assist with catalyst characterization for optimizing catalyst performance.