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New process developed at UBC to make carbon fibers affordable

Source:Adsale Plastics Network 2023-08-15

Scientists from the Faculty of Applied Science of The University of British Columbia (UBC) have successfully transformed bitumen into carbon fiber, spinning the black, sticky substances from Alberta/Canada’s oil sands into a crucial product for the energy transition.

The success in UBC’s formula lies in a completely new process from how carbon fibers are currently made – a unique method of spinning finer fibers while maintaining the fibers’ structural integrity. Additionally, the team has developed two distinct fiber sizes, regular micro-diameter fibers and nano-fiber structures.

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The UBC team has developed a unique method to produce both micro-diameter fibers and nano-fiber structures.

Reducing production cost of carbon fiber


Producing carbon fibers is notoriously expensive, with about half of the cost attributed to the raw material, polyacrylonitrile (PAN), a type of polymer resin. The typical commercial rate of common carbon fibers is US$33 per kilogram.


While for bitumen, as a low-value product, the team is able to produce carbon fiber from it for less than US$12 per kilogram. Switching to bitumen can significantly reduce cost as well as alleviating the environmental impact associated with bitumen, which releases carbon dioxide when burned.


Dr. Yasmine Abdin, Materials engineering assistant professor, explained that carbon fibers currently comprised only about 15% of a car’s composition. With a more affordable price point, high-volume industries such as automaker would have opportunity to use more carbon fibers, potentially doubling the current use of carbon fibers in automaking.


Fiber in next step

The process developed by the UBC team was one of the winning solutions during the first two phases of the Carbon Fiber Grand Challenge, a competition launched by Alberta Innovates to recover valuable products from oil sands.


The team plans to apply for the third phase of the competition, which will involve testing the fiber on a larger scale, ultimately leading to commercial-scale production. The additional funding will also facilitate the manufacturing of composite products.

Carbon fiber
· Oechsler Plastic Products (Taicang) Co.,Ltd 

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