Mountains of waste could lead to new U.S. manufacturing, jobs
“We have overcome one of the industry’s most challenging issues by discovering how to make good quality carbon fiber from waste,” said Dr. Joshua Yuan, Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientist and associate professor of plant pathology and microbiology in College Station.
The research was published recently in Green Chemistry, the peer-reviewed journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry.
“People have been thinking about using lignin to make carbon fiber for many years, but achieving good quality has been an issue,” Yuan said.
About 50 million tons of lignin — or structural part of a plant — piles up each year as waste from the U.S. paper and pulping industry, he said. Additional lignin could come from biorefineries that use plants to produce ethanol, yielding another 100 million to 200 million tons of lignin waste each year. Yet only about 2 percent of the lignin waste is currently recycled into new products, Yuan said.
“Lignin is considered as one of the most abundant biopolymers in the world,” he said. “All this waste accumulates, and it will be great to use it for something.”
Yuan’s research team has had several successes in making fuel and bioproducts from lignin. But even the biofuel making process leaves a large stockpile of waste. That led them to consider the possibility of making carbon fiber material.
Carbon fiber is not a new concept. It has been toyed with since 1860 — mostly for light bulbs originally — and is known for high strength, low weight and heat tolerance.
But it has been expensive to produce by traditional means.
“If you cannot produce quality carbon material, it’s really not useful,” Yuan said.
So the team examined lignin more closely.
“What we found is that lignin is a mixture of many molecules of many sizes and different chemical properties. Through fractionation, we separated lignin into different parts, and then we found that certain parts of lignin are very good for high quality carbon fiber manufacturing,” he explained.
The researcher noted that lignin is a complex molecule, but when the high-density, high molecular weight portion is separated from the rest, it has a uniform structure that allows the formation of high quality carbon fiber.
“We are still improving and fine-tuning the quality, but eventually this carbon fiber could be used for windmills, sport materials and even bicycles and cars,” he said. “Carbon fiber is much lighter but has the same mechanical strength as other materials used for those products now. This material can be used for a lot of different applications.
“The beauty of this technology is that it allows us to use lignin completely. Basically what we do is fractionate lignin so that the high molecular weight fraction can be used for carbon fiber and the low molecular weight fraction can be used use for bioplastics and products like asphalt binder modifier used on roads.”
Yuan envisions a multi-stream integrated biorefinery in which lignin is separated in one location so that a variety of materials — the high density carbon fibers and the low density bioplastics, along with biofuels from plant feedstock like grasses — could be made at one facility.
“When we are able to use the same biomass to produce different things, that allows the best economic return by being sustainable,” he said. “Eventually that would lead to increasing jobs and enhancing rural economic growth.
“And the entire supply chain is in the United States, which means the jobs would be here. The biomass is grown, harvested and transported here. It would be difficult to ever ship that much waste to another country for production. It all stays here,” Yuan said. “It would put agriculture production and industry together in a bioeconomy making renewable products.”
The Latest on: Carbon fiber from waste
- Waste Collection: A New Frontier For The Fashion Industry? on October 21, 2017 at 12:17 pm
More than 60% of the global fiber market is polyester, a carbon-intensive petroleum product which has ... The ethical fashion manufacturer pays waste pickers for all manner of plastic waste and has so far transformed 12,000 tonnes of waste into belts ... […]
- Sigmatex wins sustainability award on October 16, 2017 at 3:29 pm
Sigmatex generates significant quantities of carbon fiber waste across its four manufacturing sites each year. Historically, this waste has been sent to landfill at an ever-rising cost to the business and the environment. Sigmatex has developed a means to ... […]
- This Scalable Carbon Fiber EV Platform Is the Smartest Skateboard Ever on September 5, 2017 at 5:00 pm
near zero waste process" can be scaled up for mass production to reach the same cost level as forging aluminum. The platform can also house up to four electric motors, while the carbon fiber battery module developed by Williams is so strong that it ... […]
- Plant Waste Could Make Less Expensive, More Sustainable Carbon Fiber Possible on August 27, 2017 at 3:05 pm
Carbon fiber is a miracle substance. Lighter than aluminum, stronger than steel, impervious to water, it could be used to manufacture stronger, lighter automobiles like the BMW i3 and i8. It would be used in airplanes, trucks, and other vehicles if it wasn ... […]
- Spinning plant waste into carbon fiber for cars, planes on August 23, 2017 at 6:56 am
Using plants and trees to make products such as paper or ethanol leaves behind a residue called lignin, a component of plant cell walls. That leftover lignin isn't good for much and often gets burned or tossed into landfills. Now, researchers report ... […]
via Google News and Bing News