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21st February 2017, Denkendorf

Feasibility of lignin carbon to be explored

A European research project has been launched for the development of lignin-based carbon fibres for use in composites.

Germany’s ITCF Denkendorf is participating in the private-public partnership LIBRE project (Lignin Based Carbon Fibres for Composites) along with 11 other companies and institutes.

Stabilising plant in the ITCF. © ITCF Denkendorf

The intention is to develop raw materials for highly stable carbon fibre composites from lignin derived from pulp and paper manufacturing.

The usual raw material for producing carbon fibres is polyacrylnitrile (PAN), but its replacement with resource friendly biomaterials would be advantageous. Lignin is ideal for this, since it occurs in large quantities as pulp, a waste product of the paper industry. In addition, the carbon content of lignin is high, fulfilling a prerequisite for the production of high quality carbon fibre.

Carbon fibres. © ITCF Denkendorf

Substituting the raw material is not the only aim of the research project. The production of today’s precursor fibres is an energy-intensive and expensive thermal process and the project’s plan is to use microwaves and high-frequency radiation to produce the lignin-based carbon fibres more competitively and cost-effectively.

A further aim is to functionalise the surface of the fibres by plasma, to replace a current liquid chemical treatment. Surface activation improves the adherence of the fibres to the composite fibre matrix, resulting in fibres of high specific strengths, suitable for a variety of uses in lightweight construction.

Feeding the threads into the carbonising furnace. © ITCF Denkendorf

ITCF Denkendorf has many years of expertise in the development and production of high performance fibres. In the joint project, it will be responsible for the precursor development, in cooperation with other partners. This will involve chemically functionalising the raw lignin in combination with further polymers to develop a mechanically stable precursor fibre. For this, a cost-effective melt spin process developed by the ITCF will be used. In further steps, the precursor fibres will be stabilised and carbonised in a continuous process at the ITCF.

Industrial partners will further process the carbon fibres into prototypes for the automotive and wind energy industrial sectors.

Financial support of €4.9 million for the four-year LIBRE project is being provided from the EU Horizon 2020 fund.

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