The Carbon Fibre Technology Centre will focus on the development and commercialisation of low-cost carbon fibre for use in composite materials and is being funded through DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory  (ORNL), Oak Ridge, Tennessee, USA, is managed by UT-Battelle for the Department of Energy  (DOE). The announcement was part of $104 million in Recovery Act funding for research and testing facilities at seven DOE national laboratories.

"Materials research conducted at this centre will help advance the production of lighter-weight vehicles that use less oil and less fuel and produce fewer emissions without compromising comfort, safety or performance," says ORNL Director Thom Mason. "These goals are a priority for the nation's automotive and other industries, and through this project, we can help them address the challenge."

ORNL is also exploring the use of carbon fibre composite materials in other energy-related applications such as blades and towers for wind turbines and industrial technologies.

"Decreasing vehicle weight and fuel demand through the use of carbon fibre composite material is a big step government and industry can take together to help America achieve its fuel efficiency goals," adds Dana Christensen, associate laboratory director for Energy and Engineering Sciences at ORNL. "During the last 10 years, we've made significant progress toward overcoming commercialisation barriers caused by high carbon fibre production costs and limited manufacturing technologies."

Research areas

Ray Boeman, director of ORNL's Advanced Transportation Systems Programs, explains that ongoing research will focus on areas that include:

  • identifying low cost carbon fibre precursors;
  • developing advanced technologies for converting precursors to carbon fibre; and
  • testing low-cost composite design and manufacturing capabilities.

"The new technology centre's capabilities are expected to advance these research efforts, while enabling development of new innovations and commercialisation opportunities," he says. "Operating at a pilot level, the facility will be highly flexible and instrumented to demonstrate and evaluate the scalability of science and technology for lowering carbon fibre costs at least 50% and improving affordability of carbon fibre in high volume applications."

The centre will be capable of producing up to 80 tons per year of low-cost carbon fibre for evaluation and use by industry and government partners. Primary equipment will include a thermal (conventional) carbon fibre conversion line and a melt-spun precursor fibre production line. There will also be space to add an advanced technology conversion line.