Lignin-based carbon fibre can be used to reduce the weight and fuel consumption of vehicles. Having previously produced a model car, researchers are now hopeful that funding can be obtained to develop this work on a larger scale.
Researchers at RISE, in collaboration with KTH and fibre composite specialists Blatraden, have already developed a miniature car with a lignin-based carbon fibre roof. While this work remains on a laboratory scale, developments in carbon fibre technology over recent years have raised hopes that the project can be scaled up to a pilot-production project.
“We have applied for, and are hopeful of receiving, funding to enable us to develop equipment for use on a larger scale. We are talking about a fairly large investment and it is difficult to say exactly when upscaling can take place,” says Anders Uhlin. project manager at RISE. Anders also explains that this kind of upscaling process may present a number of challenges.
“On a laboratory scale, we use relatively small amounts of materials and small furnaces. Challenges may arise when the process is scaled up and we begin to use materials by the kilogram or ton. It may however prove to be quite the opposite; on a larger scale and with greater continuity, the process may actually be simplified.
Stronger, better lignin
RISE has been developing lignin-based carbon fibre for some time and the process has been improved over recent years.
“We now produce stronger lignin fibres with improved mechanical properties than previously, and in comparison to those found in scientific studies. Admittedly, there may be stronger lignin-based carbon fibres but these have additives. Our carbon fibre is additive-free and contains only lignin,” explains Anders Uhlin.
Interest from the automotive industry
Today, carbon fibre is used in everything from boats and planes to skies, guns and bicycles. The automotive industry has long discussed making cars from carbon fibre and although some production does take place, this is on a small scale. Whereas carbon fibre is usually manufactured from oil, the unique aspect of RISE’s work is that our carbon fibre is entirely based on softwood lignin. Aside from being light and strong, the material has the added advantage over fossil-based carbon fibre of coming from a renewable source.
“Our future goal is to produce real car components in lignin. There is definitely an interest from the automotive industry, although the first large-scale manufacture will probably involve fixtures and fittings rather than chassis parts,” believes Anders Uhlin.
Vehicles manufactured in carbon fibre are significantly lighter than those in steel plate. With a possible weight reduction in the order of 600 kilograms, there would be a significant fuel saving for petrol or diesel vehicles and extended range for electric vehicles.