One of the many goals the Department of Energy's (DOE’s) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) aims to achieve is developing ways to positively impact the renewable transportation sector. The newest stitch in the fabric of renewable transportation is carbon fiber, a resilient material that can be combined to create high-value composites for wind energy technologies, aircraft technologies, and vehicles.

Speakers with experience in carbon fiber manufacturing, biomass deconstruction, and intermediate and industrial chemical production gathered at the Renewable Low-Cost Carbon Fiber for Lightweight Vehicles workshop to shed light on the benefits and possibilities of carbon fiber. The two-day event, held in Detroit, Michigan, on June 4–5, was hosted by BETO, in coordination with DOE’s Advanced Manufacturing and Vehicle Technologies Offices.

The workshop leveraged the complementary insight and expertise of DOE's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy offices to support end-to-end technology development for an enhanced domestic supply chain for low-cost carbon fiber. Developing these technologies can improve the potential to increase energy productivity and the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing.

Issues discussed at the event included the technical challenges of carbon fiber manufacturing, such as meeting end-product specifications for vehicle structural components; the technical challenges of converting biomass resources to drop-in carbon fiber intermediates; and the resources, challenges, and opportunities in unconventional carbon fiber.

Unconventional carbon fiber manufacturing

The program’s goal is to reduce the cost of carbon fiber composites, which could reduce carbonization cost by about half compared to conventional methodology. (Photo courtesy of Oak Ridge National Laboratory)

Participants were invited to answer a series of questions related to the development of renewable carbon fiber in three breakout sessions. The results from those sessions indicated a high level of interest in renewable carbon fiber and the need to gather more information regarding its potential for transportation. As a result, BETO issued a request for information (RFI) on the need for federal financial assistance for the research, development, demonstration, and deployment of emerging renewable carbon fiber technologies.

With a closing date of September 6, 2013, the purpose of the RFI is to solicit feedback from industry, academia, research laboratories, government agencies, and other public and private-sector stakeholders to assist DOE with the development of a strategic program in renewable carbon fibers. This program could include investigations of biological and/or non-biological conversion and processing technologies to transform biomass components into chemicals like acrylonitrile that can be used in existing manufacturing of high-performance carbon fibers.

The carbon fiber RFI will be instrumental for BETO as it works to provide clean, safe, secure, affordable, and reliable energy from diverse domestic resources.