Converting Polyethylene into Carbon Fiber
/ April 3, 2012
Last week, researchers at the Department of Energy's (DOE's) Oak Ridge National Laboratory determined that common material such as polyethylene used in plastic bags could be turned into something far more valuable through a specific process they're developing.
In a paper published in Advanced Materials, 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.
The patent-pending process allows them to make the material potentially useful for filtration, catalysis and electrochemical energy harvesting. 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 (shown above).
The researchers also noted that their discovery represents a success for the 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.
Photo courtesy of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.