© Christine Twigg
© Christine Twigg

Researchers aim to halve CO2 footprint of carbon fibre

Researchers from across Europe, led by the University of Limerick (UL), Ireland, have begun a project to produce carbon fibre from forestry by-products.

The €4.9m project will take lignin, a polymer found in wood and bark, and try to create an alternative to the current dominant process of petroleum-based carbon fibres.

Carbon fibre is used in many industries as a reinforcement material, featuring prominently in automotive manufacturing and wind energy development.

When added to plastics, carbon fibre improves the mechanical properties.

However, it’s costly to make, so finding a way to use natural by-products rather than petroleum is one way to bring down the cost.

The Libre Project (Lignin-Based Carbon Fibres for Composites) is an Horizon 2020 action to be led by Dr Maurice Collins of the Stokes Labs, Bernal Institute at UL.

Collins said: “The production of carbon fibre from lignin will allow us to move away from the reliance on fossil fuel.

“Together, the project partners will create new innovative materials and manufacturing processes capable of lowering the cost of end products by 30pc, while cutting in half the CO2 footprint of carbon fibre production.”

The team’s aim is to create an EU advantage, whereby companies within the union can benefit from an indigenous cottage industry of cheap, green, carbon fibre variants.

The project includes other partners from Ireland, as well as Germany, Sweden, Belgium, the UK and Italy.