Using lightweight components and high-efficiency engines enabled by advanced materials in one quarter of the US fleet could save more than 5 billion gallons of fuel annually by 2030, according to the US Department of Energy. (Picture courtesy of egd/Shutterstock.com.)
Using lightweight components and high-efficiency engines enabled by advanced materials in one quarter of the US fleet could save more than 5 billion gallons of fuel annually by 2030, according to the US Department of Energy. (Picture courtesy of egd/Shutterstock.com.)

Carbon fibre derived from biomass may cost less to manufacture and offer greater environmental benefits than traditional carbon fibre produced from natural gas or petroleum, according to the Energy Department.

Renewable carbon fibre

Carbon fibre is typically made from petroleum and natural gas feedstocks (propylene and ammonia, respectively) that react to form acrylonitrile (ACN) which is then polymerised and spun into polyacrylonitrile (PAN). The volatility of the raw material prices and the energy intensive processes used in the manufacturing contribute to high cost carbon fibre (>$10/lb), which deter widespread use by the automotive industry.

The objective of this Renewable Carbon Fibre Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) is to identify and develop a cost-competitive technology pathway to high performance carbon fibre using biomass as a starting raw feedstock and biomass derived ACN (bio-ACN) as a target product. The goal is to produce bio-ACN at a modelled cost of $1/lb to enable the overall manufacturing of carbon fibre at $5/lb by 2020.

Source: Energy Department's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE)

This funding supports the Energy Department’s Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative, which aims to ensure US manufacturers remain competitive in the global marketplace. By replacing steel and other metals lightweight, high strength carbon fibre could lower the cost and improve performance of many technologies, including fuel-efficient vehicles and renewable energy systems. 

For example, reducing a vehicle’s weight by 10% can improve fuel economy by 6-8%.

Cost-competitive technology

The Energy Department funding will support projects that identify and develop a cost-competitive technology to produce high-performance carbon fibres from renewable biomass.

The goal is to enable the overall manufacturing of carbon fibre at $5/lb by 2020.

More information and application requirements is available on the Funding Opportunity Exchange website.

The deadline for submission of Concept Papers is 3 March 2014.