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reinforcing fibres | Innovation Right:


Reseachers at ORNL’s Carbon Fibre Technol- ogy Facility


have developed a carbon fibre production process that


cuts energy use and cost


similar chemistry, however, is produced on a commod- ity basis for clothing and carpets – a high-volume product that costs roughly half as much as the specialty PAN used in the carbon fibre industry.” ORNL has been carrying out R&D on the lower-cost


precursor on a highly instrumented, semi-production scale carbon fibre conversion plant at Oak Ridge, in Tennessee. “Our R&D into process improvements and the extensive validation work at the Carbon Fibre Technology Facility provide manufacturers and end-use industries the confidence needed to invest in large- scale manufacturing, knowing there will be a market for this material,” says Gary Jacobs, ORNL’s Interim Associate Lab Director for Energy and Environmental Sciences. Companies, including licensees of the new method, will be able to use the facility to refine and validate carbon fibre manufacturing processes. It is not clear at present how different the ORNL


process is from that used by Zoltek (part of Toray). Zoltek also produces PX35 fibres from a textile fibre- based precursor and says PX35 “is both affordable and delivers the strength to weight performance equal to or better than many aerospace grades.” The company says PX35 is manufactured in a proprietary high-throughput process “that allows it to be the lowest cost commercial carbon fibre on the market.” At the same time, it says it is actively lowering the cost of carbon fibre by adding capacity and growing new markets.


Fibres from waste But while carbon fibres remain, at least today, a premium product, recycled carbon fibres offer a competitive alternative for applications requiring chopped strands. At least that is the view of Belgian company Procotex Corp. “We are sure that recycled Carbon Fibres (rCF) could help to solve some of this high cost problem,” says Dieter Henau, Sales Manager/ R&D Technical Fibres. “For years, the industry has been looking at ways to


Table 1: Carbon fibre pricing dependency on production volume Source: Zoltek


20 COMPOUNDING WORLD | October 2016


re-value and re-use production waste,” says Henau. “Re-integrating carbon fibre filaments into thermoplas- tics by adding a specific sizing and chopping them to 6mm has been a first major step in recycling carbon fibre waste. Processing some random or precision chopped carbon fibres into a non-woven has been second major step. The bulk of the carbon fibre waste (prepregs, tissues, loose filaments, cured parts) though can’t be processed in this way. A portion of this waste material ends up as a milled carbon fibre for applica- tions in some niche markets.” The challenges with milled carbon fibre remain in the short fibre length (limited mechanical reinforce- ment) and dispersion problems and dust formation, Henau says. “However, Procotex and its affiliate


www.compoundingworld.com


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