Pictured here are textile-grade acrylic fibres entering the first of four oxidation ovens. Once fully oxidized, the fibre is ready to run through the higher-temperature furnaces, which convert the oxidised fibre to carbon fibre.
Pictured here are textile-grade acrylic fibres entering the first of four oxidation ovens. Once fully oxidized, the fibre is ready to run through the higher-temperature furnaces, which convert the oxidised fibre to carbon fibre.

Video: Conventional carbon fibre conversion.

The Carbon Fiber Technology Facility (CFTF), operated by ORNL as part of the Department’s Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative, opened earlier this year. Its objective is to find ways to reduce carbon fibre production costs and to work with the private sector to stimulate wider use of carbon fibre.

We’re uniting ORNL’s unique facilities, scientific and engineering expertise with industrial partners to stimulate broader application of carbon fiber to create new products that will result in the revitalisation of American manufacturing. 
Craig Blue, ORNL’s advanced manufacturing program and Manufacturing Demonstration Facility

In its first months of operation, the CFTF used traditional raw materials to assure the new pilot scale manufacturing line would produce a commercial-quality product. With that goal accomplished, the facility now will use less expensive precursor materials that can be turned into carbon fibre more cost-effectively.

“The first alternative precursors we are working with are lower-cost, textile-grade acrylic fibres that we will turn into sample lots of carbon fibres,” says CFTF director Lee McGetrick.

“Companies that would like to obtain some of this material for prototyping of composite applications are invited to come and talk to us.”

ORNL is accepting proposals from companies that want to try out the low-cost carbon fibre to develop new products and tap markets in such areas as transportation, energy production and infrastructure (see the federal business opportunity announcement here).

The 42,000 ft2 CFTF has the flexibility to try out different kinds of precursor materials, which typically comprise about half of carbon fibre production costs. In addition to the textile acrylic fibre now in use, CFTF researchers are experimenting with other inexpensive alternatives such as lignin, a by-product of biorefineries and the pulp industry.