Tennessee: Oak Ridge National Laboratory Optimizes Carbon Fiber Production, Reduces Carbon Fiber Costs by 30%

Project Overview
Positive Impact: ORNL is working to combat the high costs of hydrogen storage tanks with two new strategies.
Location: Oak Ridge, Tennessee
Partners: Oak Ridge National Lab, Virginia Tech, and FISIPE/SGL
EERE Investment: $2M through FY13
Clean Energy Sector: Sustainable transportationPDF

The high cost of aerospace-grade carbon fiber (CF) is currently a barrier to widespread commercialization of light-weight, high-pressure hydrogen and natural gas storage tanks. To combat the high costs of hydrogen storage tanks, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is investigating two strategies that have the potential to significantly reduce the cost of aerospace-grade polyacrylonitrile (PAN) fibers.

One is optimizing lower-strength, commercial textile-grade PAN fibers—where the cost is lowered because the precursor fibers are mass produced from existing textile industry facilities.  ORNL has recently reached a milestone where they demonstrated a two-fold increase in CF strength using precursor fibers produced from lower cost textile facility at FISIPE.  The second strategy is to melt-spin the textile-grade PAN precursor fibers instead of the current very cost intensive wet-spinning process. ORNL has recently demonstrated the feasibility of producing CF from a melt-spun process and will continue to develop and optimize the process. Further optimization of these processes has the potential to result in carbon fibers with strengths needed to reinforce high-pressure tanks used in hydrogen storage systems at reduced cost.

The Fuel Cell Technologies Office (FCTO) conducts comprehensive efforts to overcome the technological, economic, and institutional barriers to the widespread commercialization of hydrogen and fuel cells.

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