New process converts polyethylene into carbon fiber

Mar 27, 2012
Carbon fibers having unique surface geometries, from circular to hollow gear-shaped, are produced from polyethylene using a versatile fabrication method. The resulting carbon fiber exhibits properties that are dependent on processing conditions, rendering them highly amenable to myriad applications.

(PhysOrg.com) -- Common material such as polyethylene used in plastic bags could be turned into something far more valuable through a process being developed at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

(PhysOrg.com) -- In a paper published in , a team led by Amit Naskar of the Materials Science and Technology Division outlined a method that allows not only for production of carbon fiber but also the ability to tailor the final product to specific applications.

"Our results represent what we believe will one day provide industry with a flexible technique for producing technologically innovative fibers in myriad configurations such as fiber bundle or non-woven mat assemblies," Naskar said.

Using a combination of multi-component fiber spinning and their sulfonation technique, Naskar and colleagues demonstrated that they can make polyethylene-base fibers with a customized surface contour and manipulate diameter down to the submicron scale. The patent-pending process also allows them to tune the , making the material potentially useful for filtration, and harvesting.

Naskar noted that the sulfonation process allows for great flexibility as the exhibit properties that are dictated by processing conditions. For this project, the researchers produced carbon fibers with unique cross-sectional geometry, from hollow circular to gear-shaped by using a multi-component melt extrusion-based fiber spinning method.

The possibilities are virtually endless, according to Naskar, who described the process.

"We dip the fiber bundle into an acid containing a chemical bath where it reacts and forms a black fiber that no longer will melt," Naskar said. "It is this sulfonation reaction that transforms the plastic fiber into an infusible form.

"At this stage, the plastic molecules bond, and with further heating cannot melt or flow. At very , this fiber retains mostly carbon and all other elements volatize off in different gas or compound forms."

The researchers also noted that their discovery represents a success for DOE, which seeks advances in lightweight materials that can, among other things, help the U.S. auto industry design cars able to achieve more miles per gallon with no compromise in safety or comfort. And the raw material, which could come from grocery store plastic bags, carpet backing scraps and salvage, is abundant and inexpensive.

Explore further: Novel microscopy pencils patterns in polymers at the nanoscale

More information: "Patterned functional carbon fibers from polyethylene," onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10… 2/adma.201104551/pdf

Related Stories

Researcher studies carbon fibers for nuclear reactor safety

Dec 10, 2007

Carbon fibers that are only one-tenth the size of a human hair, but three times stronger than steel, may hold up to the intense heat and radiation of next generation nuclear power generators, providing a safety mechanism. ...

Built like the Dreamliner: 2013 debut of carbon composite cars

Sep 28, 2011

The revolutionary material used to build the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the Airbus A350 super-jumbo jet, and the military's stealth jet fighter planes is coming down to Earth in a new generation of energy-saving automobiles expected ...

New forms of dietary fiber to boost health

Dec 08, 2010

High-fiber foods are on the way to becoming tastier and more appealing to consumers thanks to new types of dietary fiber now under development. These consumer friendlier forms of fiber, which could be a boon to health, are ...

New carbon composite holds promise for bionics

Apr 22, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Mimicking the human nervous system for bionic applications could become a reality with the help of a method developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to process carbon nanotubes.

Recommended for you

Self-repairing subsea material

Dec 16, 2014

Embryonic faults in subsea high voltage installations are difficult to detect and very expensive to repair. Researchers believe that self-repairing materials could be the answer.

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Scottingham
5 / 5 (2) Mar 27, 2012
Good golly, I can't wait for cheap carbon-based composite materials!
Callippo
1 / 5 (6) Mar 27, 2012
Which kind of people writes bellow popular articles the sentences starting with words "Gosh, I can't wait for..."? Are these people payed for it in organized way or they're just a schoolchildren? Anyway, the article itself is not informative a much more. It's essentially a patent PR.
Silverhill
5 / 5 (3) Mar 27, 2012
Which kind of people write remarks containing at least six structural or spelling errors in only 47 words? (Get a grip, dude!)

I'd like to see some cost comparisons for this process vs. the existing graphite-fiber methods.
Estevan57
2 / 5 (27) Mar 27, 2012
How interesting, the process converts polyethylene-base fibers into carbon fiber after forming. Cool. Seems to be a neat trick, the flexibility of forming before the conversion to C fiber is a great time saver.

Scottingham, don't mind the resident gloomy guy. He takes enthusiasm personally. Spelling and grammar too.
jet
Mar 28, 2012
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.