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Bio-based Carbon Materials from Upper Austria

CFRP now comprises more than 50% of modern aircraft. At the same time, these materials are now broadly used in the automobile industry, construction and sports equipment such as tennis rackets, bicycle frames and fishing rods. Carbon is considerably more versatile. In addition to these so-called high-performance applications, carbon is also used, for example, in batteries, filters and thermal insulation.   

Lightweight Construction Valley Upper Austria?

Leading component suppliers for the aviation industry as well as machine and plastics producers are located in Upper Austria. Intensive work and research are being carried out on CFRP here and the federal province also ensures a sufficient supply of young scientists. For example, the University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria in Wels offers studies in lightweight construction and composite materials, and Johannes Kepler University (JKU) Linz offers a degree program in plastics engineering.

Up until now, fiber research was not given enough attention. The research institute Kompetenzzentrum Holz GmbH (Wood K plus) now wants to change this. It has been implementing the project “BioCarb-K – Bio-based Carbon Fibers and Ceramics” since 2015, focusing on the production of carbon materials, above all carbon fibers, from bio-based raw materials. The funding of this basic research project by the European Fund for Regional Development (EFRD) and the Federal Province of Upper Austria underscores the importance of this issue.

Bio-based carbon fibers are considerably less expensive!

Carbon fibers are currently produced through the controlled pyrolysis of petroleum-based raw materials at high temperatures. The starting materials are expensive and are only available to a limited extent. By using bio-based materials, raw material costs can be reduced, and the price of carbon fibers can be significantly lowered. Moreover, the manufacturing of 100% bio-based composite materials would also be possible with carbon fibers.

Wood-based raw materials are used in the BioCarb-K project. Cellulose fibers are derived from wood. Lignin is created as a by-product. Wood K plus has been conducting research on cellulose fibers, lignin and carbon materials for several years. This know-how should now be bundled in order to develop new types of carbon fibers from cellulose and lignin. Wood K plus is also cooperating with physicists and chemists at the Center for Surface and Nanoanalytics (ZONA) at Johannes Kepler University Linz.    

Porous carbon materials – Unlimited range of applications

Intensive research work is also being carried out on porous carbon materials. The most well-known one is activated carbon. These highly porous carbons with a very large surface (up to almost half that of a soccer field per gram of carbon) can also be produced from bio-based materials. In principle, all bio-based raw materials are suitable for this application. Properties can be adjusted in a targeted manner by varying the bio-based starting materials. This is decisive, in light of the fact that activated carbon is deployed in many different areas such as energy storage, wastewater and waste gas purification, gas storage, functional textiles and antibacterial wound dressings.

However, it should also be mentioned that porous carbon moldings can also be derived from bio-based materials. For example, foam structures or so-called aerogels can be produced. These can be systematically converted at high temperatures into carbon gels or carbon foams, which are well suited for thermal insulation at high temperatures, to give one example.  

The manufacturing of porous carbon materials as the basis for high performance ceramics (silicon carbide SiC black ceramics). A mold is made from wood and resins, in which case conventional plastics technologies such as extrusion, injection molding or 3D printing can be applied. The porous carbon mold is ultimately produced through the controlled pyrolysis at high temperatures. In combination with the metal silicon, this is transformed into ceramics at temperatures of up to 1,600 °C. This unique process was developed and patented by Wood K plus.

Boris Hultsch

Managing Director at Wood K plus

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