Paper360 - May/June 2013 - (Page 30)
Broadening the Availability
of Carbon Fibers with Lignin
The benefits carbon fibers may have in our future are limited by
significant obstacles in the present
arbon fibers are a modern biomaterial with an encouraging
set of amazing mechanical properties that are set to enhance
the future of civil, energy, and
This novel material, which is composed
of highly-oriented carbon atoms, is generally
several-fold stronger than steel, with only a
third of the weight. Moreover, other attractive
features of carbon fibers include low thermal
expansion and an astonishingly high range of
versatility. For example, carbon fibers can be
spun into strands thinner than a human hair,
or molded into rigid shapes ranging from
high-end tennis rackets to next generation
According to the U.S. Department of
Energy, the manifold beneficial properties
of this biomaterial have an immediate potential to entirely modernize the transportation
industry. If implemented as a substitute for
steel, carbon fibers can reduce the weight
of a vehicle by nearly 60 percent without a
compromise in automobile safety standards.
Additionally, the reduced weight of the vehicle would directly lead to improvements in
fuel economy by as much as 30 percent and
a corresponding reduction in automotive
emissions, based on studies performed by
Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Even more
compelling is that all of these advantages
could be realized without any substantial
changes to engine technology, and could
improve the efficiency of hybrid and electric
Unfortunately, the benefits carbon fibers
may have in our future are limited by significant obstacles in the present. More specifically, the widespread incorporation of
carbon fibers into general consumer goods
is inhibited by high production costs of the
material. The high cost production of synthetic and petroleum-derived carbon fiber
precursors, among other important factors,
is one of the chief factors that ultimately
limit the use of the biomaterial to just highperformance applications. Innovations in
more cost-effective alternative carbon fiber
production strategies may increase the availability of this highly useful biomaterial.
Toward this end, scientists have examined
the use of lignin, a highly abundant plantderived bioresource, as a potential carbon
fiber precursor. Kraft lignin is a byproduct
of the Kraft pulping process and is generally
burned as fuel in pulp mill recovery boilers.
Th is scenario presents an opportunity for
recovery boiler-limited mills to repurpose
Kraft lignin toward higher-utility applications such as high-value biomaterials. As a
result, Kraft lignin has attracted significant
interest as a starting material for carbon
fibers. Progress to date has made it apparent
that the resulting mechanical attributes of
the carbon fibers rely on the quality and
chemical nature of the isolated Kraft lignin.
Hence, current research is now focused on
discovering suitable and economic optimization processes of lignin that can benefit
carbon fiber production.
Professor Arthur J. Ragauskas of the
Institute of Paper Science located at Georgia
Institute of Technology, and Hans Thielander
of Forest Products and Chemical Engineering
at Chalmers Institute of Technology, are moving to the next phase of a joint research initiative towards determining novel optimizations
of Kraft lignin for carbon fiber generation.
Tyrone Wells, a Ph.D. candidate at the Institute
of Paper Science, Georgia Institute of Technology,
recently spoke on this topic at the 2013 TAPPI
Student Summit. He can be contacted at
email@example.com. Courtesy of the Gunnar
Nicholson Fellowship Program, Wells will travel
to Chalmers Institute of Technology, a Swedish
university located in Gothenburg that focuses on
research and education in technology, natural
science, and architecture, to work with Professor
Hans Theilander to implement upgrading strategies that will ultimately provide new insights
aimed toward broadening the availability of
carbon fibers derived from lignin.
Deaton, Jamie Page, "Can carbon fiber solve the oil crisis?" 27 May 2008. HowStuff Works.com. (http://auto.
carbon-fiber-oil-crisis.htm). 16 January 2013.
Gellerstedt, G., E. Sjoeholm, and I. Brodin, The woodbased biorefi nery: a source of carbon fiber? Open
Agric. J. 4: p. 119-124.
Truss, R.W., Natural fibers for biocomposites. MRS Bull.
36(9): p. 711-715.
Woodyard, Chris. "Carbon fiber sparkles with diamondlike appeal," 16 July 2005. USA Today. (http://
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Paper360 - May/June 2013
Over the Wire . . . News Summary
The 2013 TAPPI Award Winners
Successful Asset Management in the Paper Industry from an OEM Point of View
TAPPI Journal Summaries
Managing the Risk of Fire and Explosion in the Pulp and Paper Industry
Broadening the Availability of Carbon Fibers with Lignin
TAPPISAFE Through the Eyes of a Labor Attorney
Bleached Softwood Kraft Pulp
What’s New on Paper360.org
Paper360 - May/June 2013