Researchers from across Europe, led by University of Limerick (UL), have begun a project to produce carbon fibre from forestry by-products.
Carbon fibre is a reinforcement which when added to plastic improves its mechanical properties thereby forming a composite material. Composites are used in many products including automotive parts and wind-turbine blades. However, carbon fibre is currently produced from petroleum which is expensive and detrimental to the environment.
The LIBRE project, led by Dr Maurice Collins of the Stokes Labs, Bernal Institute at UL, aims to create carbon fibre materials in a cost-effective and more environmentally friendly way, by producing them from a naturally derived wood product called ‘lignin’. “The production of carbon fibre from lignin will allow us to move away from the reliance on fossil fuel,” Dr Collins explained.
The strength-to-weight ratio of carbon fibre offers excellent potential to reduce the weight of products including vehicles, with consequent saving of fuel. Currently, the cost of carbon fibre makes it prohibitive for widespread use. The LIBRE project is expected to reduce production costs sufficiently to find mass-market applications for carbon fibre. This will enable European producers to rely less on imported precursors and imported carbon fibre thereby securing an indigenous and sustainable European carbon-fibre manufacturing base.
“Together, the project partners will create new innovative materials and manufacturing processes capable of lowering the cost of end products by 30% while cutting in half the CO2 footprint of carbon fibre production,” Dr Collins added.