European researchers, led by the University of Limerick in Ireland, have started a €4.9 million project to produce carbon fiber from forestry by-products, called lignin, which will be a more cost-effective and environmentally-conscious process than is currently employed.
Lignin, a by-product of the forestry industry, could be used in carbon fiber production.
The LIBRE project seeks to create a European production line for carbon fibers, which are currently too expensive to mass produce and are largely imported. Carbon fibers can be added to plastic composite parts to strengthen them and make them lighter. This has the potential to provide significant fuel savings for the automotive industry, for instance.
“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. Maurice Collins of the Stokes Labs at the University of Limerick said in an article on the school’s website.
Dr. Terry McGrail, Director of IComp, the Irish Composites Centre, added, “The global market for composite materials in 2016 had a value of around US$80 billion with a projected average compound annual growth rate of approximately 7% per annum across diverse sectors ranging from aerospace to automotive and construction.”
Lignin is a class of complex polymers that provide structure to plants and algae. It is especially important in the foundation of wood and bark because of its rigidity and because it does not rot easily.
The project includes partners from across Europe, including Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Belgium, and Italy. The €4.9 million was provided from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Program under the Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking.