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ORNL develops process to convert polyethylene into carbon fiber

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Department of energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory has been developing a process by which common material like polyethylene that is used in plastic bags can be turned into something more valuable. As published in a paper in Advanced Materials, a method is outlined by Amit Naskar’s team of the Materials Science and Technology Division, which not only describes how to produces carbon fiber, but also tells how to tailor the final product into particular applications.

ORNL process converts polyethylene into carbon fiber

Naskar and his colleagues by combining their sulfonation technique and the multi component fiber spinning demonstrated how polyethylene base fibers can be made with customized surface contour and filament diameter can be manipulated down to the submicron scale. The process, which is pending for patent tunes porosity, makes the material potential to be used for filtration, electrochemical energy harvesting and catalysis. Also it has been noted by Naskar that great flexibility is allowed by the sulfonation process as properties are exhibited by carbon fibers, uttered by conditions of processing. Using a multi component melt extrusion based fiber spinning method, unique cross sectional geometry carbon fibers from gear shaped to hollow circular were produced by the researchers for the project.

The discovery, as noted by the researchers is a success represented for DOE, which looks for the lightweight materials to advance so that US auto industry gets help in designing fuel efficient cars without compromising the safety or the comfort. Another aspect is that the raw material is inexpensive and abundant as it can be availed from carpet backing scraps, plastic bags of grocery store and salvage.


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