BY ANDREW BURGER –
Extremely strong, lightweight and durable, carbon fiber is increasingly being used as a substitute for steel and other metals and materials used in manufacturing – manufacturing in the clean energy sector in particular. From wind turbine blades to automobiles and hydrogen storage containers, the Department of Energy (DOE), as per direction provided by programs such as President Obama’s Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative, is a motive force in realizing advances that are forming the basis of a vital and growing green US economy.
Having established the first carbon fiber manufacturing facility of its kind in the US – the Vehicles Technologies Office’s (VTO) Carbon Fiber Manufacturing Facility (CFMF) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory – the DOE is now aiming to drive production costs lower by fostering the development of carbon fiber manufactured from renewable, non-food-based biomass feedstocks, such as corn stover.
If successful, these new processes would not only help drive down the cost of manufacturing carbon fiber, they could obviate the need for petroleum-based and natural gas feedstocks in the manufacturing process, thereby realizing substantial reductions in carbon and greenhouse gas emissions.
Carbon fiber from renewable, non-food biomass
The DOE on February 3 announced it was providing up “to $12 million in funding 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.” As the DOE elaborated,
“Carbon fiber derived from biomass may be less costly to manufacture and offer greater environmental benefits than traditional carbon fiber produced from natural gas or petroleum. This funding supports the Energy Department’s Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative, which is a cross-cutting effort to ensure U.S. manufacturers remain competitive in the global marketplace.”
Replacing steel and other metals with carbon fiber can yield substantial benefits, including improving performance and lowering the costs of a wide range of manufactured products, particularly in the fast growing renewable energy and clean technology sectors.