New carbon fiber lab at Oak Ridge officially launches search for cheaper fiber

The search for a non-PAN precursor that can produce high-quality carbon fiber begins in earnest in Tennessee at the just-opened Carbon Fiber Technology Facility.


The Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn., USA, officially opened its Carbon Fiber Technology Facility on March 26, in the process officially launching its effort to develop a lower cost carbon fiber for use, primarily, in automotive applications, but also for wind and other markets.

The goal of the facility is three-fold:

--Demonstrate low-cost carbon fiber (LCCF) technology scalability with the last scaling step before full-scale commercial production

--Produce development quantities of LCCF needed for large-scale material and process evaluations and prototyping

--Deploy a training system, including educational internships and industrial training and recertification, for developing the future carbon fiber workforce

Not stated is an underlying desire to get the cost of carbon fiber down to the mythical $5/lb range that is often held up as the unit cost that will drive carbon fiber into a myriad of new applications. Whether or not ORNL can reach this threshold remains to be seen, but whatever the outcome, it won't be for lack of trying. The facility features:

--Thermal (Conventional) Conversion Line: Rated for 25 tonnes/year of polyacrylonitrile (PAN)–based fiber and can convert both melt-spun and solution-spun precursors. It is baselined for standard modulus PAN but designed with the flexibility to accommodate lignin, polyolefin, and pitch precursors and can be readily upgraded to convert rayon and high modulus PAN precursors. It is designed to process materials in either tow or web forms.

--Melt-Spun Precursor Fiber Production Line: Rated at 65 tonnes/year of polyethylene fiber and is designed to also spin lignin and pitch-based precursors in either tow or web form. It is upgradable to melt-spin PAN when the technology is sufficiently developed.

--Advanced Technology Conversion Line: ORNL is currently developing advanced conversion technology based on microwave and plasma processing technologies. Provisions have been made for the future construction of an advanced technology line, similar in scale to the conventional conversion line, when the technologies are sufficiently mature for semiproduction-scale demonstration.

All of this technology will be available for up-close inspection come later this year when CompositesWorld's annual Carbon Fiber conference is held Dec. 9-12 at the Crowne Plaza in Knoxville, Tenn. The conference will offer an option tour of the Oak Ridge Carbon Fiber Technology Facility. You can get preliminary information and keep tabs on the event at Carbon Fiber 2013.