New Process Yields Low Cost Carbon Fiber for Renewable Energy and Transportation

carbon fiber
A 6 μm diameter carbon filament (running from bottom left to top right) compared to a human hair.

Three-time Tour de France champion Greg LeMond is partnering with carbon fiber manufacturing pioneer Connie Jackson and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to bring the most significant development in carbon fiber production in over 50 years to the global markets.

LeMond Composites, a new company offering solutions for high-volume, low-cost carbon fiber, has secured a licensing agreement with U.S. Department of Energy’s ORNL. The agreement will make the Oak Ridge-based LeMond Composites the first company to offer this new industry-disrupting carbon fiber to the transportation, renewable energy, and infrastructure markets.

“We can provide the advantages of our carbon fiber to many industries by improving strength, stiffness, and weight reduction. If you imagine replacing steel, aluminum, and fiberglass with our carbon fiber, you begin to understand the scope of the potential market,” said Connie Jackson, CEO of LeMond Composites. “Our process will have global applications and we are ready to move forward with scaling the technology.”

A breakthrough process invented by Jackson and a research team at ORNL’s Carbon Fiber Technology Facility (CFTF) will reduce production costs by more than 50% relative to the lowest cost Industrial grade carbon fiber. Incredibly this new carbon fiber has the mechanical properties of carbon fiber costing three times as much. Until now, manufacturing carbon fiber was an extremely energy-intensive process. This new method reduces energy consumed during production by up to 60%.

Jackson and several of her ORNL teammates joined LeMond Composites in 2016.

“We have assembled the only team in the world that has executed this proven technology which uniquely positions us to deliver a successful outcome for our customers and stakeholders,” said Greg LeMond. “From experience, I know that having the right team is a distinct business advantage.”

Light, stiff and strong, carbon fiber is the perfect material for advanced composites in a variety of applications. The biggest obstacle to its widespread use has been the high cost of carbon fiber. This new process will allow high-volume, cost-sensitive industries around the world to reap the benefits of carbon fiber composites at a fraction of the cost while incorporating chemistry geared toward recyclability.

“The development of this new process demonstrates the value of coupling basic and applied research, which is a hallmark of ORNL, and it underscores the Department of Energy’s commitment to addressing our nation’s most pressing energy challenges,” said Thom Mason, Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director. “The Department’s sustained investments in scientific research and development and in specialized facilities such as CFTF are enabling a variety of applications that will lead to improvements in fuel efficiency and position U.S. industry for global success.”

ORNL’s Carbon Fiber Technology Facility began operations in 2012, supported by the Department of Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing and Vehicle Technologies offices, to demonstrate the possibility of low-cost carbon fiber at a semi-production scale.

Growing demand from the automotive industry is due in large part to the global push to increase the fuel economy of nearly every vehicle produced. In the USA, the demand is being driven by the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. These standards demand a fleet-wide average fuel economy of 54.5 mpg by 2025. The single best way to improve fuel economy is to reduce the weight of the cars and their component parts. ORNL and Jackson’s remarkable breakthrough technology puts CAFE standards within reach, ensuring cost-effective weight reduction through the use of high quality carbon fiber without sacrificing the strength and safety of the steel it replaces.

“We understand the growing demand from the automotive industry and we are currently in negotiations with several of the world’s leading automotive brands and their suppliers,” said LeMond.

For the wind power industry, carbon fiber can be used to make turbine blades lighter and stiffer, thereby increasing the efficiency of the system. Previously, carbon fiber was too expensive for maximum utilization in this market.

Additional sectors, including shipping, air travel and marine, could see significant energy savings through the use of carbon fiber in the light weighting of their containers, planes, and ships.

Carbon fiber composites can also be used to build, reinforce, or repair bridges, tunnels, commercial and residential structures.

“As a result of the affordability of this carbon fiber we believe that world-wide mass adoption will be inevitable. We are positioning ourselves to grow and meet this demand by locating our company in Tennessee, a state that through Governor Haslam and Commissioner Boyd’s forward-thinking programs like Tennessee Promise, will provide a steady stream of quality employees for our company,” said LeMond. ”Our close proximity to ORNL adds a value beyond measure and we are looking forward to future collaborations with them. Additionally, with the input of the University of Tennessee, The Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI), and the emerging composites corridor, I believe the Knoxville area will become the world hub for carbon fiber in the future. On a personal note, the bike riding in this area is incredible.”

LeMond Composites plans to expand its campus by building its first carbon fiber production line at their recently purchased facility at 103 Palladium Way in Oak Ridge. The facility is strategically located immediately adjacent to ORNL’s Carbon Fiber Technology Facility.

The first commercially available product will be ready in Q1 of 2018.

 

Image credit: By Saperaud~commonswiki assumed (based on copyright claims). – No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=350295

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1 Comment

  • Bruce Miller says:

    I have my hopes set on recycleable Aluminum for cars and trucks, and Ford has a winner with their F 150 Truck.
    My Question: if aluminum can be recycled and remanufactured with less energy than any other material into new vehicles will it be preferred over non recyclables?

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