Irish Researchers Look to Cut the Cost of Carbon Fiber Production

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In Ireland, researchers at the University of Limerick are looking to cut the cost and carbon dioxide emissions associated with producing carbon fiber from forestry byproduct, lignin.

The strength-to-weight ratio of carbon fiber makes it a useful composite material for applications such as automotive parts, where reduced weight improves fuel savings, and wind-turbine blades. However, the current petroleum-based production route is expensive and environmentally unfriendly.

Dr. Maurice Collins of UL’s Bernal Institute believes lignin-based carbon fiber production could reduce carbon fiber product costs by as much as 30% and carbon dioxide emissions by 50%, compared to the current route. Lower production costs would also make mass-market applications for carbon fiber viable.

The project, dubbed LIBRE, is coordinated by Dr. Collins and run in cooperation with European partners from Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Belgium, United Kingdom, and Italy. Consortium participants include Eirecomposites, an Irish wind-energy company, and automobile manufacturer Fiat. Collins has received a €4.9 million (USD5.2 million) grant under the Bio-Based Industries Public Private Partnership for LIBRE, which aims to bring a product to market with four years.