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From basic research to production

Published 05/09/2012 by Elisabeth Sjöholm

Developing new materials or creating existing materials from new raw materials is a long and fairly challenging process which requires knowledge, stamina, cooperation and resources. And that's precisely the case when manufacturing carbon fibre from lignin.

We have now spent around six years researching the production of carbon fibre from kraft lignin. Six years might sound like a long time, but it's important to remember that this has involved basic research in a field that is completely new to the pulp industry and to us at Innventia. We've now reached a stage where we have been able to show that carbon fibres can be spun from softwood lignin, which was previously thought to be impossible. Exciting, isn't it?

I have had the privilege of leading LigniCarb, a research project which has shown that the lignin found in wood but removed during kraft pulp production has great potential for use as a raw material for manufacturing carbon fibre. Most of us are probably aware that carbon fibre is light and strong with a whole host of different applications, but it is perhaps less well known that the production costs are fairly high, with the petroleum-based raw material and fibre spinning accounting for around 50 percent of the cost. Thanks to LignoBoost technology, we can now extract extremely pure lignin which could be used for manufacturing carbon fibre, thus increasing access to a raw material for carbon fibre. According to studies reported on in a thesis that was recently submitted here at Innventia by Ida Norberg, using lignin brings significant benefits. Not only because today's raw materials are petroleum-based and costly, but also because the carbon fibre process can be made more efficient. The next step is therefore to convert these fantastic research findings into something that can be used in production, and that can really benefit the pulp industry. The pulp industry has excellent opportunities for broadening its production in a profitable way and reducing its use of petroleum-based components. This in turn would lead to increased access to carbon fibre and less negative impact on the environment through reduced use of petroleum-based raw materials. In other words, greater access to carbon fibre that can not only be manufactured more efficiently, but is also made from a renewable raw material.

In order to achieve this, we must all work together and think outside the box! Focusing on improving knowledge about the entire process and learning from other players within the value chain in order to obtain concrete research findings is both enjoyable and exciting. To achieve faster results, we need to increase cooperation both with and within the pulp industry, obtain resources – including for more advanced equipment in order to be able to spin more fibres simultaneously – and ensure strong commitment from all parties.

In other words, with joint commitment and cooperation, we can move mountains – or at least manufacture tomorrow's carbon fibre from lignin!


Elisabeth Sjöholm

Elisabeth Sjöholm works in the group Biorefinery Processes and Products at Innventia.

Elisabeth Sjöholm
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