DOE offers $12 million to fund biobased carbon fiber research

By Erin Voegele | February 07, 2014

The U.S. DOE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) has opened a $12 million funding opportunity for renewable carbon fibers. The aim is to develop a cost-competitive pathway to produce high-performance carbon fiber for vehicle lightweighting from renewable, non-food biomass.

According to the funding opportunity announcement (FOA), carbon fibers are polymers that have typically been made form petroleum-based propylene and natural gas-based ammonia feedstocks. These feedstock react to form acrylonitrile (CAN), which is polymerized and spun into polyacrylonitrile (PAN). Information released by the DOE notes that volatile raw material prices coupled with energy-intensive production processes has kept the cost of fossil-based carbon fibers high, averaging more than $10 per pound. High prices deter widespread use by the automotive industry even though the strong, lightweight materials can help improve vehicle fuel efficiency.

The goal of the funding opportunity is to identify and develop a technology pathway that can produced biobased ACN at a modeled cost of $1 per pound, which would enable overall carbon fiber manufacturing costs of $5 per pound.

According to the FOA, DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which houses the BETO, is expected to make up to two awards under the program, with each award ranging from $6 million to $12 million.

To be eligible to submit a full application, applicants must submit a concept paper by March 3. Full applications are due April 11. Selected parties are expected to be notified by June 13.

The EERE will host an informational webinar on the FOA on Feb. 13 at 2:30 p.m. EST. Additional information on the webinar and FOA is available here