Advanced Materials


Carbon Fiber

ORNL has a long history of researching, developing, and demonstrating new approaches to manufacturing carbon fiber, especially in targeting properties and lowering cost for energy missions, but also in finding approaches for higher performance. ORNL presently leads a major DOE initiative to develop technologies key to producing low-cost carbon fiber (LCCF). Multiple efforts are underway to research and develop precursors from renewable resources and other alternative source materials. Simultaneously, ORNL researchers demonstrate revolutionary methods for converting precursors to carbon fiber using microwave energy and/or plasma technologies to replace conventional energy-intensive and rate-limiting processes (traditional ovens and furnaces). Researchers investigate more flexible and effective approaches to surface-treating and sizing converted carbon fiber to improve applicability to energy missions. When successfully implemented, LCCF utilization in automotive, wind turbines, and other industrial and commercial applications may increase significantly, increasing energy efficiency and reducing our dependency on foreign oil supply.

In early 2013 ORNL started operating a highly flexible, highly instrumented Carbon Fiber Technology Facility for proving new low-cost manufacturing processes and technologies at pilot scale. Center to this initiative are deploying pre-production-scale carbon fiber conversion and melt-spinning precursor fiber lines. Both have unique capabilities and are housed in a dedicated facility to:

  • Demonstrate the scalability of the science and technology for lowering the cost of carbon fiber by at least 50%
  • Produce up to 25 tons/year of carbon fiber made from low-cost precursors; make available to potential end-users and upper-tier suppliers in multiple industries
  • Accommodate future addition of an advanced technology conversion line
  • Produce precursor fibers made from a variety of precursor materials, e.g., lignin and polyolefin, on the melt-spinning line
  • Enable industrial and university collaborations to effectively leverage expertise of ORNL's personnel in developing low-cost manufacturing techniques for carbon fiber components
  • Educate and train a highly skilled, future workforce for LCCF implementation

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