Search our Archive

02/08/2021

Groundbreaking research at UL helps develop 'cheaper and more sustainable' carbon fibre

University of Limerick researchers develop 'cheaper and more sustainable' carbon fibre

Dr Maurice N Collins, a senior lecturer at UL’s school of engineering

GROUNDBREAKING technology developed by researchers at the University of Limerick could lead to the cars of the future being manufactured from paper waste.

The researchers, based at UL’s Bernal Institute, have produced carbon fibre from sustainable bio-resources. These materials have been used to produce car wing mirrors and sections for wind turbine blades, paving the way towards a more sustainable future for materials used in the automotive and wind energy sectors.

Carbon fibre is used as a reinforcement in plastic materials to produce composite materials, which are deployed in commercial high-end goods such as cars, aircraft computers and sports equipment like golf clubs.

These materials are oil-based, non-sustainable and are environmentally polluting during their production and end of life.

With the global market for composite materials worth upwards of US$90 billion, UL is leading the way on the production of bio-based carbon fibre, which could signal the dawn of a new green industry for Ireland.

“Our team has converted organic waste from forestry into carbon fibres which have already shown enormous potential in terms of performance in automotive, aerospace and wind-turbine demonstrator tests,” explained Dr Maurice N Collins, a senior lecturer at UL’s school of engineering.

“Our technology drastically reduces energy usage and carbon emissions during production, as well as the cost of carbon fibres. This is particularly significant as carbon fibres are known for their high performance and their high cost. In the future we can expect higher performance goods at lower cost to the consumer,” added Dr Collins, principal investigator and coordinator on the research project.

With Biorefineries popping up all around Europe, including in Ireland, to convert plant-matter or biomass to fuel, heat, power and chemicals, vast quantities of waste material called lignin are being produced as a result.

Between 40 and 50 million tons of lignin are produced worldwide per year and the state of the art technology developed at UL can produce material using conventional and newly developed energy efficient, dry and waste-free processing and pre-treatment techniques.

“Our bio-based carbon fibres are being used to produce composite materials for application in the energy, aerospace, biomedical and automotive sectors, offering a high-end commercial route to valorising forestry waste,” said Dr Collins.

Dr Mario Culebras Rubio, a researcher on the project and member of the Bernal Institute at UL, said that it has also “been very successful in exploring alternative uses of Lignin to produce carbon-based nanomaterials for energy harvesting and storage” and that it was a starting point for future research proposals.

The research that developed this new production process began with LIBRE, a project that aimed to free the composite industry of its reliance on oil-based production, funded by the European Union’s Biobased Industries Consortium under the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

The outcome of the research being conducted at UL has the potential to have a significant impact on the development of new industries for Irish forestry and agriculture, the project team believe.

“Sustainable materials are of emerging strategic importance to UL and are certain to underpin the rapid development of a post pandemic modern society,” said UL Vice President Research Professor Norelee Kennedy.

“Our research seeks to address many global challenges and the work by Dr Collins and his group in building on existing strength in materials is an excellent example of addressing challenges in sustainability. This research puts UL at the forefront of sustainable materials research in application areas such as biomedical, packaging, aerospace and automotive,” she added.

Commenting on the research, Patrick Barrett of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine said: “This project is a great example of Irish researchers working with companies to develop high value products which have tremendous potential for our indigenous industries. This type of technology drives innovation and helps to deliver industries of the future which will create new jobs and deliver growth in our bio-economy.”

More News

Buy the e-paper of the Donegal Democrat, Donegal People's Press, Donegal Post and Inish Times here for instant access to Donegal's premier news titles.

Keep up with the latest news from Donegal with our daily newsletter featuring the most important stories of the day delivered to your inbox every evening at 5pm.