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4M reveals progress with plasma oxidation for carbon fiber production

Promising results following application of 4M Carbon Fiber’s plasma oxidation technology to make carbon fiber using polyacrylonitrile (PAN) precursor supplied by Formosa Plastics Corp.
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Oxidized PAN precursor at ORNL Carbon Fiber Technology Facility

Oxidized precursor at ORNL Carbon Fiber Technology Facility. Source | ORNL

4M Carbon Fiber Corp. (Knoxville, Tenn., U.S.) reported on March 4 that it has completed a carbon fiber manufacturing demonstration program that proves the viability of a process that uses the company’s atmospheric plasma oxidation technology to produce 15% stronger carbon fiber while tripling production output. The results, say 4M, demonstrate the ability to produce higher quality carbon fiber while spreading capital and operating costs over three times the production capacity. 4M is exploring options to license this technology to carbon fiber producers.

In collaboration with carbon fiber manufacturer Formosa Plastics Corp. (Kaohsiung City, Taiwan) and the Department of Energy’s Carbon Fiber Technology Facility (CFTF) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL, Oak Ridge, Tenn., U.S.), 4M’s team oxidized Formosa’s polyacrylonitrile (PAN) precursor using the internationally patented atmospheric plasma technology developed by 4M and ORNL. The fiber was then carbonized, surface-treated and sized at the CFTF. The resulting carbon fiber was then tested at the CFTF using industrial testing methodology. The initial trial showed that the fiber produced using 4M’s oxidation technology exhibits higher tensile properties than carbon fiber produced via conventional processes for using Formosa’s precursor.

Dr. Truman Bonds, CTO of 4M, says, “We have yet to optimize our process for this precursor, so we believe that there is still room for processing speed improvement and even better carbon fiber properties. 4M intend to continue technology licensing discussions with several carbon fiber manufacturers and new entrants, and we hope to finalize and announce a strategic partnership soon.”

4M’s next step in the plasma oxidation commercialization process is to complete a $20 million pilot plant to produce samples requested by automakers, trucking companies, container manufacturers and carbon fiber producers. Mike Agentis, general manager of 4M, says PAN for this pilot plant would likely be sourced from Formosa, but that other suppliers are also being considered. The pilot plant is expected to allow 4M to operate closer to commercial scale and produce quantities large enough for carbon fiber manufacturers to make decisions about licensing the technology. The company also anticipates that the pilot plant will position 4M to support building production capacity with partners who will license the technology.

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