Coming to carbon fiber: Low-cost mesophase pitch precursor

Advanced Carbon Products LLC has developed and patented a continuous manufacturing process for the production of mesophase pitch carbon fiber precursor that will cost as little as $1.50/lb.
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The composites industry appears to be on the verge of taking another step in its quest for affordable, high-quality carbon fiber. Advanced Carbon Products LLC (ACP, Hitchins, KY, US) reports that it has developed and patented a continuous manufacturing process for the production of mesophase pitch carbon fiber precursor that will cost as little as $1.50/lb.

Chris Boyer, vice president of marketing for ACP, says the company, in 2015, received a US patent for producing isotropic pitch. Isotropic pitch is the feedstock for making mesophase pitch, for which ACP developed and received another patent earlier this year. The isotropic pitch is referred to internally by ACP as ACP10; mesophase pitch is referred to as ACP20.

The key to driving down cost, Boyer says, is the company’s ability to manufacture the isotropic pitch and mesophase pitch in continuous, non-batch, short residence time processes. He says the company believes that with further process optimization, it could reduce the cost mesophase pitch to less than $1.50/lb.

As to the quality of carbon fiber potentially available using this mesophase pitch, Boyer says ACP’s anisotropic pitch is chemically similar to anisotropic pitch already used as a carbon fiber precursor. He says the company believes that carbon fiber derived from its mesophase pitch will be on par with mesophase pitch-based carbon fiber being produced by other commercial companies.

ACP manufactures its mesophase pitch on a pilot-scale system right now, but Boyer says the firm is moving forward with plans to build a first commercial plant with a capacity of up to 10,000 metric tons/year. In the meantime the company is seeking commercialization partners to help it evaluate the material in a carbon fiber production environment.

In addition, ACP is offering mesophase pitch samples to Oak Ridge National Laboratories (ORNL, Oak Ridge, TN, US) and other research facilities to assess the material’s performance. Boyer says ACP can produce precursor with mesophase pitch contents ranging from 50 wt% to more than 90 wt%. Most carbon fiber manufacturing lines, he says, prefer mesophase concentrations of 80-90 wt%. Boyer says other products will be targeted by ACP’s pitch, including carbon/graphite foams, carbon/carbon densification materials and specialty graphite products.

ACP history: In 2008, Marathon Petroleum shuttered its M-50/A-240 isotropic pitch plant leaving customers without a continuing source of pitch. Don Malone, VP and CTO of ACP, invented these new low-cost, continuous processes for the production of isotropic and anisotropic (mesophase) pitch. In 2009, ACP was founded to develop and commercial these processes. The majority of ACP’s management have extensive prior experience developing, processing and marketing pitch materials.