High-Performance Composites

MAR 2013

High-Performance Composites is read by qualified composites industry professionals in the fields of continuous carbon fiber and other high-performance composites as well as the associated end-markets of aerospace, military, and automotive.

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tory (ORNL, Oak Ridge, Tenn.) has been studying alternate precursors for years. Although lignin was a possibility, the lab now is looking at polyolefin with partners Dow Chemical and Ford Motor Co. (Dearborn, Mich.). Some carbon fiber manufacturers at the conference expressed skepticism that a non-PAN material can provide the same chemistry that makes carbon fiber so effective — particularly high-modulus carbon fiber for use in high-performance applications. But speaker Jai Venkatesan, Dow's director of materials science and engineering, admitted that a year ago he, too, was pessimistic about the potential of polyolefin as a viable precursor. "However, we are confident now that we can turn the right knobs to spin the polyolefins in the right way. We think that this is possible." He added that Dow estimates the carbon fiber yield from polyolefins, like polyethylene and polypropylene, might approach 86 percent. Although it is by no means clear if this could result in $5/lb carbon fiber, a nonPAN precursor could certainly lead, at some point, to the manufacture of lessexpensive fiber. Ross Kozarsky, senior analyst at Lux Research (Boston, Mass.), reported that his research indicates non-PAN materials do have a future as a precursor, but production of fibers from them would require innovations in oxidization and carbonization during the carbon fiber manufacturing process and would benefit only those who make standard- and intermediate-modulus fiber. BMW sets production CF car debut The BmW i3 all-electric passenger car, due out later this year, is the first production vehicle to use an all-carbon-fiber passenger cell. Other automakers are looking to use carbon fiber in similar applications and are likely to follow BmW's supply model, which includes a joint venture with carbon fiber manufacturer SGL Group. Source: BmW/SGL "I do not think high-modulus carbon fiber is a candidate for the alternative precursor work," Kozarsky said, pointing out that "this work is driven by the ability to sacrifice performance for cost reduction." That's a tradeoff automakers can make because they have less stringent performance requirements. But it's not an option in the aerospace market. "Applications that require high-modulus fiber are not a good opportunity for applying the alternative precursors." Kozarsky also noted that current precursor efforts are focused on textile-grade PAN, which is less expensive. He said that ORNL/ Dow and SGL Group, through Fisipe, the Barreiro, Portugal-based precursor manufacturer it recently acquired, are on this path. Kozarsky believes ORNL's textilegrade PAN-based carbon fiber line will come online in 2013 and achieve carbon fiber unit costs of about $19.30/kg ($11/ kg = $5/lb). This will lead, by 2016, to development of precursor based on meltspun PAN and carbon fiber prices of $15.90/kg. By 2017, he said, assuming march 2013 | 49

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