Thermal processing equipment manufacturer Harper International (Buffalo, N.Y.) finalized in late March a contract with the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DoE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL, Oak Ridge, Tenn.) under which Harper will provide a full pilot-scale carbon fiber process line. Valued at more than $12 million (USD), the custom-designed conversion process will support ORNL’s ongoing Low Cost Carbon Fiber research and technology-transfer program. The line will be built around Harper’s proprietary multi-flow oxidation oven technology; advanced LT and HT slot furnaces, rated for 1000°C/1832°F and 2000°C/3632°F, respectively; pre- and posttreatment fiber conditioning as well as gas treatment and handling, and material transport systems.
ORNL researchers will use the line to negotiate the next steps in an effort to use lignin as a precursor, enabling low-cost production of carbon fibers. A renewable resource, lignin is separated from paper-mill and/or bio-refinery cellulose and is far less costly than traditional precursors. The primary objective is to develop more energy-efficient, cost-effective materials and processes for production of affordable carbon composites. A key target market is automotive manufacturing, where carbon composites would substantially reduce vehicle weight, decrease fuel consumption, and result in lower greenhouse gas emissions.