Researchers in Texas have developed a method for converting waste from the paper and pulp industries into carbon fibres that could be used to make cars.
The carbon fibres are made using lignin extracted from the waste. This is a plant material that to date has rarely been recycled in to new products – currently just 2% of it is converted for reuse, according to Dr Joshua Yuan, Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientist.
Dr Yuan said: “We have overcome one of the industry’s most challenging issues by discovering how to make good quality carbon fiber from waste. We are still improving and fine-tuning the quality, but eventually this carbon fiber could be used for windmills, sport materials and even bicycles and cars. Carbon fiber is much lighter but has the same mechanical strength as other materials used for those products now. This material can be used for a lot of different applications.
“The beauty of this technology is that it allows us to use lignin completely. Basically what we do is fractionate lignin so that the high molecular weight fraction can be used for carbon fiber and the low molecular weight fraction can be used use for bioplastics and products like asphalt binder modifier used on roads.”