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Harper’s carbon fiber R&D workshop highlights ongoing R&D efforts from around the world

News International-French

25 Oct 2013

The first Carbon fiber R&D Workshop hosted by Harper International (Buffalo, NY, USA) took place over two days in July and gathered carbon fiber experts from academia, government and the entire value chain of the composites industry to focus on the future of carbon fiber research.

More than 150 participants attended presentations and took part in networking events to discuss the latest development efforts in Carbon fiber. The technical sessions schedule provided both diversity and depth, including speakers from renowned organizations such as Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Ford Europe, India Institute of Technology, The University of British Columbia, and many more. Attendees also toured Harper’s latest research Microline system that was on display in their production facility.

Highlights from the technical sessions included the following:

Dr. Frank Ko from the University of British Columbia (Canada) presented on Lignin-based Carbon Nanofiber research performed under the Lignowork Biomaterials and Chemicals Network program. The Lignoworks program aims to produce lignin-based materials and chemicals that help decrease human dependence on petroleum. The study successfully demonstrated the feasibility of producing carbon nanofibers from softwood kraft lignin by electrospinning and heat treatment. The morphological, mechanical, and electrical properties of the electrospun fiber mats before and after carbonization were characterized, resulting in a 10X increase in strength for the lignin random fiber mats after carbonization. Alignment of fibers further improved the mechanical strength. These encouraging results demonstrate the potential of lignin as an engineering material thus establishing a pathway for adding values to the abundantly available lignin.

Dr. Sarbajit Banerjee spoke about the University at Buffalo’s (USA) research efforts on Carbon Nanofibers and Graphene for the Corrosion Protection of Steel. The research is directed at using blast furnace gases as precursors for catalytic carbon nanofiber and nanotube growth on low alloy steel surfaces. The nanofiber/nanotube coatings are integrated with a polymeric matrix to constitute a metal-free corrosion-resistant coating for low alloy steels. Such an approach can be integrated as part of a closed loop process that reduces the carbon footprint of steel plants while allowing for value addition to steel and enabling the replacement of carcinogenic hexavalent chromium.

Dr. Renee Bagwell from Harper International (USA) discussed designing carbon fiber research systems for ease of scale up. Dr. Bagwell discussed the decisions required in the configuration of a research scale carbon fiber process system that will ensure a correlation to successful commercial scale production. Several technical areas relevant for scale-up that are often overlooked were discussed including air velocity, tensioning, application of and assessment of PAN finishes, analysis of filament breakage, and analysis of the off-gas composition.

Cliff Eberle presented the latest research and development efforts that Oak Ridge National Laboratory (USA) is performing to produce low cost carbon fibers (LCCF) by using alternative precursor materials such as textile PAN, melt spun PAN, and lignin, and through the use of advanced manufacturing technologies. This research, funded primarily by the DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, is nearing scale-up of these materials and technologies as the next step towards commercialization of LCCF for a wide range of industrial applications that impact energy security.

Dr. Kushal Sen from the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi(India) also spoke about precursor materials with his presentation on molecular engineering and production of SAF (Special Acrylic Fibre). Dr. Sen reported part of the work done on synthesis, characterization and production of SAF in the IIT research labs. Copolymers and terpolymers of Acrylonitrile(AN) / Methyl acrylate (MA) /carboxylic acids (Methacrylic acid (MAA), Itaconic acid (IA), were synthesized using radical polymerization techniques using AIBN as the initiator at different polymerization conditions and were characterized to get insight into the composition, tacticity, rheological behaviour, reactivity and their thermal behavior. It was concluded that the composition of polymer and the polymerization, spinning and drawing conditions can be judiciously manipulated to alter the key properties of the acrylic precursors and thus to facilitate the production of higher performance carbon fibers.

Dr. Han Gi Chae presented on preliminary results of efforts on polyacrylonitrile/carbon nanotube composite fibers at the fiber spinning and continuous carbonization research and development laboratory at Georgia Institute of Technology (USA). GT’s fiber spinning lines can be used for batch processing of 1 to >5 liter solution in single or variety of bi-component fiber geometries, typically in the 20 to 100 multi-filament tow. Fibers can then be drawn on a multi-zone fiber drawing line, where up to 5 as spun tows can be combined to give up to 500 multi-filament tow. These tows can then be stabilized and carbonized on a multi-zone continuous stabilization and carbonization lines. On the line at Georgia Tech, continuous stabilization and canonization of 100 to 6000 filament has been successfully demonstrated.

Dr. Mustapha Belhabib, from Ford Motor Company of Europe and Visiting Professor in Sustainability at University of Liege, discussed “Moving Towards Mass Application of Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymers in Automotive”. Dr. Belhabib discussed the main materials that are under consideration for weight reduction including advanced high strength steels, aluminum, magnesium, and polymers and composites. Focusing in on carbon fiber, the presentations reviewed Ford’s partnerships with academia and industry leaders to address carbon fiber’s cons and enable mass production. It was concluded that while bio-based options are very promising for sustainable carbon fibers, performance improvement and scale up for mass manufacturing are key next steps for the new solutions and smarter composite technologies are needed to enable optimal mass introduction in automotive.

Dr. Peter Witting from Harper International (USA) discussed industry trends in high modulus fiber and UHT technology. UHT systems which are required to operate at temperatures up to 3000° necessitate inventive designs for the materials of construction, sealing technology, and atmosphere control. Most traditional materials would be consumed as part of the reaction with exposure to such high temperatures for extended periods of time. This presentation pointed out design features to enable such a system to operate reliably for extended periods under these extreme conditions. To go along with this presentation, Harper International had a completed UHT furnace on display that attendees were able to tour.

Harper International organized the Workshop to bring more attention to R&D efforts underway in industry, government and academic organizations, connecting key players driving the R&D efforts with those who would benefit for their advances. The hope is for the relationships and opportunities created from the event to act as a catalyst to help carbon fiber move closer to its full realization. Harper plans to hold the every 2-3 years, as the cycle of innovation requires this length of time to cultivate new R&D discoveries worthy of sharing with the group again.