Researchers develop lignin-based carbon fiber

The Swedish research institutes Innventia and Swerea SICOMP see potential for its usage in cars.

Swedish research institutes Innventia and Swerea SICOMP say they are the first in the world to unveil a composite demonstrator based on 100% softwood lignin. The researchers believe this material could eventually produce lightweight, fuel-efficient cars.

The demonstrator – a sandwich structure in which balsa wood is laminated with carbon fiber – is the first proof that it is possible to manufacture lignin-based carbon fiber, even if this is still only on a laboratory scale. The production of another demonstrator is already under way to demonstrate a future application within the automotive industry, a model car powered by a lignin-based battery.

“Our first demonstrator is helping us to understand what we need to focus on in our R&D work, so it’s particularly pleasing that we have now taken a big leap forward in the value chain. One of the biggest needs right now is to scale up for a continuous production process so that we can identify the challenges that always arise during upscaling. We hope that both industry and society will be bold enough to invest in this upscaling,” said Per Tomani, focus area manager for lignin & carbon fiber at Innventia.

“Alongside this development, intensive work is also taking place to develop the existing manufacturing methods for carbon fiber composites,” said Birgitha Nyström, research leader for materials technology at Swerea SICOMP. “We believe in the large-scale production of lightweight materials, and the manufacturing methods for composites must therefore become more cost-effective. There’s no reason to believe that today’s fossil-based carbon fibers can’t be replaced directly with lignin carbon fiber in these production processes.”