Niklas Garoff, Business Development Manager (Source: Stora Enso)
Carbon fiber demand is increasing steadily at an annual growth rate of 10%. The ambition of Stora Enso and their partners is to provide industrial composite producers with a sustainable, yet cost-competitive, carbon fiber made from renewable and fossil-free materials.
Tell us about the wonder material carbon fiber. In what kind of applications are they used?
Carbon fiber is used in numerous composite applications where high strength and stiffness coupled with low weight is required, resulting in a variety of end-use possibilities. We see a growing interest for high performance carbon fiber in transportation, construction and power generation. Today, 20% of the global carbon fiber supply is used by the wind energy industry.
NeoFiber by Stora Enso can be used, for example, as wind energy rotor blade reinforcement (in pultruded laminates), in airplane and automotive construction, and in sporting goods.
Why are carbon fibers so suitable especially for the mobility sector and for the construction sector?
We see bio-based carbon fiber as a sustainable material for all kinds of industrial composites where there is a need for low weight and high mechanical performance. This is particularly important for the mobility sector where low weight translates to energy savings.
Carbon fiber is a critical material used for the construction of airplanes. It is also used in the automotive sector where demand is driven by electrical mobility: Battery boxes for electrical vehicles are made with carbon fiber composites. Carbon fiber is also used for making pressure vessels for hydrogen gas storage in fuel cell driven mobility applications.
In the construction sector, carbon fiber can replace steel rebar for reinforcing concrete. Wall thickness is drastically reduced enabling novel, light architectural designs. The lifetime of buildings is increased because carbon fiber does not corrode as fast as rebar.
The wood construction industry is also an interesting area where bio-based carbon fiber could be applied as reinforcement material.
A lot of energy is needed for the production of carbon fibers. Could you briefly explain what needs to be considered in the sustainable production of carbon fibers?
We are looking forward to process data from our pilot operations for a more accurate estimate of energy and raw material consumption. Based on our data so far, what we can say is that we have an advantage over PAN-based (polyacrylonitrile) carbon fiber because the footprint of our cellulose-lignin precursor is lower than that of a PAN precursor. In addition, we have a carbon credit due to the biogenic carbon captured in our raw materials.
Overall, the electricity mix of the region in which the carbon fiber is produced is the most important contributor to its carbon footprint.
What kind of cellulosic raw materials can be used?
The wood-based raw materials used for NeoFiber are cellulose (dissolving pulp) and lignin, the 2 main building blocks of a tree. In our bio-based carbon fiber process, cellulose is converted to viscose and mixed with lignin to form the spinning dope. The dope is spun into precursor fiber that is thermally converted to carbon fiber.Performance and sustainability – can both points be reconciled in the bio-based fibers?
Absolutely. Stora Enso continuously addresses the need to transition from fossil-based to renewable materials. The conversion of our pulp and our lignin to carbon fiber means a high level of value creation of our raw materials. We are the global leader for developing a process for producing high-performance, cost-efficient carbon fiber from renewable materials. Thus, we aim at leveraging this knowledge advantage to help our customers in the target markets to become more sustainable and at the same time grow new business for Stora Enso.Our bio-based carbon fiber – NeoFiber by Stora Enso – offers a fossil-free solution to the markets in need of sustainable innovations. Our customers will have the unique opportunity to offer the most sustainable end-products on the market without compromising on product performance.
NeoFiber = Trademark by Stora Enso
The interview was conducted by Mechthild Maas, editor of TextileTechnology, with Niklas Garoff, Business Development Manager of Stora Enso AB, Nacka/Sweden.