The US Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced up to $12 million in funding to advance the production of cost-competitive, high-performance carbon fiber material from renewable non-food-based feedstocks such as agricultural and forestry residues. Carbon fiber derived from biomass may be less costly to manufacture and offer greater environmental benefits than traditional carbon fiber produced from natural gas or petroleum. This funding supports the Energy Department’s Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative, which is a cross-cutting effort to ensure U.S. manufacturers remain competitive in the global marketplace.
Carbon fiber is a strong, lightweight material that can replace steel and other heavier metals to lower the cost and improve performance of many technologies, including fuel-efficient vehicles, cars and airplanes alike. For example, by investing in lightweight carbon fiber materials for vehicles, the Energy Department is helping U.S. manufacturers reduce vehicle weight to improve fuel efficiency and save drivers money at the pump. Reducing a vehicle’s weight by just 10% can improve fuel economy by 6% to 8%.
For airplanes, the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the new Airbus A350 are already made from carbon fiber and epoxy resins for more than 50% of their weight. Add biomass based jet-fuel in the tanks and you are not far away from a 80% sustainable airplane and flight. This initiative of the DOE goes in the right direction and is also a way to support a diversification of U.S carbon fiber sourcing currently very much dependent upon non domestic producers (refer to article on this blog dated Jan 29,2014).
In addition to its uses in fuel-efficient vehicles, carbon fiber can also improve other clean energy technologies including wind turbine blades, pressurized hydrogen storage vessels for fuel cells and insulation materials for energy efficient buildings.
For all these reasons, the Energy Department clearly stated it intends to support projects that identify and develop a cost-competitive technology pathway to produce high-performance carbon fibers from renewable biomass.