Low Cost Carbon Fiber
While the benefits of carbon fiber (strength, lightness, conductivity) have been known for some time, the time and cost of production has often made it prohibitive for mass markets. Carbon fiber is expensive mainly due to three factors: precursor costs, energy consumption during conversion, and long processing times during conversion.
RMX has pioneered innovative processes that lower the cost of carbon fiber and decrease processing time, all while using less energy. These advancements dramatically expand the applications of carbon fiber across a growing list of industries, including automotive, thermoplastic/electronics, sporting goods, wind energy, off-shore drilling, transportation/marine and aircraft/aerospace.
In short, the carbon fiber technologies developed by RMX are breaking previous performance and cost barriers in the industry.
Partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) has a 40-year history in research, development, demonstration and deployment of fiber-reinforced composite materials. For the past decade ORNL has led the Department of Energy’s low-cost carbon fiber initiative. ORNL has constructed the Carbon Fiber Technology Facility, a $35 million pilot plant capable of producing up to 25 tons of new low-cost carbon fibers from several different precursors.
Through a strategic partnership with ORNL, RMX is developing proprietary technologies that lower the cost of carbon fiber conversion. One of these collaborative projects has been so successful that it has been named as a U.S. DRIVE highlight for 2012. Presently the RMX/ORNL team has filed four patents (with two others underway) focused on the three carbon fiber conversion steps: Oxidation, Carbonization and Surface Treatment.
Research & Development in Carbon Fiber Production
- Oxidation – The combined RMX/ORNL research and development efforts initially focused on oxidation, which is the most energy-consuming step in carbon fiber conversion. The team focused on the unique physics of plasma chemistry to enhance the oxidation process using less energy and reducing the processing time by over 65%. RMX is expanding its oxidation technology to thermal insulation and flame retardant materials, utilizing typical PAN precursor material and lignin.
- Carbonization – RMX is in the feasibility stage of developing an atmospheric pressure plasma carbonization oven that can achieve the same metrics as the ORNL Microwave Assisted Plasma (MAP) carbonization project, without the vacuum requirement.
- Surface Treatment – Research has expanded to include the utilization of atmospheric pressure plasma for the surface treatment of carbon fiber. The primary focus is not necessarily cost savings in the process itself, but the enablement of the use of low-cost sizings and resins that normally have difficulty bonding to the carbon fiber. This is an important part of the manufacturing process, especially when new low-cost precursors are being used. Results have shown a dramatic increase in surface oxygen content in plasma-treated fibers over wet-chemical or thermochemical processing techniques.