DOE announces funding for biomass-based carbon fiber development

The US Energy Department (DOE; Washington, DC) has announced up to $11.3 million in funding for two projects that aim to advance the production of cost-competitive, high-performance carbon fiber material from renewable, non-food-based feedstocks, such as agricultural residues and woody biomass.

Bio routes to carbon fiber target significant production cost reductions.

Carbon fiber can potentially play a key role in lowering the cost and improving the performance of fuel-efficient vehicles and renewable energy components such as wind turbine blades. The two projects seek to demonstrate new biomass conversion technologies that enable the manufacturing of acrylonitrile - an essential feedstock for high performance carbon fiber - for less than $1 per lb. ($2.20/kg).

Southern Research Institute (SRI; Huntsville, AL)  will receive up to $5.9 million to innovate on a multi-step catalytic process for conversion of sugars from non-food biomass to acrylonitrile. Further, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL; Golden, CO) will receive up to $5.3 million to investigate and optimize multiple pathways to bio-acrylonitrile. This funding supports the Department of Energy's Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative, a cross-cutting effort to ensure U.S. manufacturers remain competitive in the global marketplace.

Previously, the DOE provided funding to The Dow Chemical Company (Midland, MI),  Oak Ridge National Laboratory (Oak Ridge, TN) and Ford Motor Company to develop a lower cost carbon fiber production process that uses polyolefin in place of conventional polyacrylonitrile as the feedstock. Oak Ridge has also been exploring the use of lignin extracted as a by-product of cellulosic ethanol fuel production as a raw material for carbon fiber production.

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