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BMW recycled carbon fiber

Supply a Barrier to Bio-Based Carbon Fiber

BMW recycled carbon fiberA number of technical challenges stand in the way of making carbon fiber for vehicle components from bio-derived materials and using biomass feedstock to produce drop-in carbon fiber intermediates, such as the chemical compound acrylonitrile, according to a Department of Energy report.

The report, Renewable, Low-Cost Carbon Fiber for Lightweight Vehicles, summarizes the results of a public workshop sponsored by the DOE and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The workshop was held as part of the agency’s Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative, which aims to increase US competitiveness in the production of clean-energy products.

The purpose of the workshop was to leverage the expertise of EERE staff to support technology development for an enhanced domestic supply chain for low-cost carbon fiber that has potential to increase energy productivity and the competitiveness of US manufacturing. Low-cost carbon fiber from renewable resources could be used for vehicle lightweighting, which improves fuel economy and reduces emissions.

Acrylonitrile is an important monomer used to make plastics such as polyacrylonitrile (PAN). Workshop participants determined that bio-derived acrylonitrile needs to meet a number of technical parameters before it can be used in manufacturing processes to generate PAN precursor fibers. The yield from raw feedstock such as cellulosic sugars, the source, type and quantity of chemical impurities, and the degree of pre-polymerization are three critical factors used to determine the acceptability of bio-acrylonitrile, the participants concluded.

Participants also pinpointed a number of challenges — including supply chain, security, regional supply and competitive biofuel uses — to using biomass feedstock to produce drop-in carbon fiber intermediates.

Lightweighting is the automotive industry’s best method to achieve the 2025 corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standard, Chuck Evans, corporate vice president at Henkel’s automotive group, said in October.

Evans said there are many options to help automakers meet the CAFE requirement including advanced powertrains, vehicle downsizing, lightweighting and other innovations. Citing an MIT study, Evans said focusing on lightweighting alone will result in the average new vehicle weighing 28 percent less in 2016 than it does today.

Photo Credit: carbon fiber recycling material used in the BMW i3 from BMW

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