Mitsui Chemicals and Microwave Chemical are investing more than $14 million in the construction of a pilot facility within Mitsui Chemicals’ Nagoya Works to demonstrate microwave technology for manufacture of eco-friendly carbon fiber, an endeavor that Mitsui Chemicals and Microwave Chemical recently announced they would be looking at together. The two companies are also working on applying microwave technology in the chemical recycling of plastic waste.
Microwave Chemical has created an innovative carbon-fiber production technology that combines the oxidation process — the most energy-intensive part of carbon-fiber production — with carbonization. This makes for an integrated heating process based on the power of microwaves that Microwave Chemical calls Carbon-MX.
Microwave Chemical will contribute to the installation of the demonstration facility by providing Mitsui Chemicals with all of the necessary equipment for a heating line based on Carbon-MX technology. Meanwhile, Mitsui Chemicals will set up the entire process, including those elements that involve Carbon-MX technology. Once construction of the demonstration facility is complete, tentatively by the end of December 2023, the companies intend to take a joint look at mass production opportunities.
By leveraging the ability of microwaves to heat a target substance from the inside, the technology minimizes unnecessary heat generation. When compared to existing methods, this will significantly reduce the time spent on heat treatment, resulting in a shorter heating process line and, thus, more compact production facilities. Further, since the equipment itself does not reach high temperatures, the technology is expected to reduce equipment and energy costs and improve safety.
Mitsui Chemicals and Microwave Chemical have projected that this approach will cut energy consumption by some 50%. If the source of the power used to generate the microwaves is switched to renewable energy in the future, CO2 emissions are expected to be reduced by more than 90%.
Going forward, both Mitsui Chemicals and Microwave Chemical will employ life cycle assessments as they look to minimize the presence of carbon throughout their value chains. The companies will endeavor to meet the rising need for carbon neutrality in industries where carbon fiber is slated for use, including the mobility sector.