Cost effective lignin‑based carbon fibres for innovative light‑weight applications

Objectives

Objectives

The overall objectives of GreenLight are:

  • to demonstrate a new biobased, renewable and economically viable carbon fibre (CF) precursor – lignin – produced in Europe with European raw material
  • to develop conditions for its processing into CF and structural CF composites.

The target is a cost-effective biobased CF for use in reinforced composites delivering sufficient enough strength properties for large-volume automotive applications. Reducing vehicle weight is a decisive factor for successful fulfilment of the future targets in EU regulations regarding CO2 emissions from the automotive sector. CF reinforced plastics has been introduced as a low-weight material replacing/complementing steel and aluminium.

Today’s CF production is based on use of a petroleum-based raw material, PAN, which is costly due to the starting precursor and the process for turning it into CF. Most PAN used in Europe is imported. The automotive sector has identified a need for a cheaper lower-grade CF to meet the demands of components in normal consumer cars. Lignin from kraft pulp mills is a green, sustainable, abundant and cost-efficient new potential CF precursor.

In addition, the European pulp and paper industry has a need for additional revenues due to the global competition and the decline in printing and writing paper. Successful lignin applications like CF will create new business opportunities and new jobs also in rural areas where the pulp mills are located.

The development of lignin-based CF is still in laboratory scale and material properties meeting high-quality product demands is the main challenge. Now a new technology in commercial operation – LignoBoost – makes it possible to produce lignin with new properties, higher purity and with less impact on the pulp mill operation. The idea is to tailor kraft lignin properties already in the lignin separation/upgrading and optimise the lignin for target automotive applications. The consortium has unique competence through the complete value chain to realise this new concept.

Expected impacts

  • Contribution to the structural changes and increasing of competitiveness of the forest-based industry in Europe.
  • Decrease in fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions through the use of lighter structural materials in the automotive sector (10% weight reduction means a reduction of 7% in fuel consumption)
  • Creation of a sustainable European industry in the production of lignin-based CF, which has applications in diverse sectors (automotive, aircraft, wind energy, etc.)
  • Reduction of the European dependence on imported CF and CF precursors
  • Reduction of at least 20% of greenhouse gas emissions in the production of lignin-based CF compared to the production of PAN-based CF.

Funding

This project has received funding from the Bio Based Industries Joint Undertaking under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 667501.