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GreenLight Report Summary

Project ID: 667501
Funded under: H2020-EU.3.2.6.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - GreenLight (Cost effective lignin-based carbon fibres for innovative light-weight applications)

Reporting period: 2015-07-01 to 2016-12-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

The overall objectives are to demonstrate a new biobased, renewable and economically viable carbon fibre (CF) precursor – lignin – produced in Europe with European raw material and to develop conditions for its processing into CF and structural CF composites. The target is a cost-effective biobased CF for use in reinforced composites delivering sufficient enough strength properties for large-volume automotive applications. Reducing vehicle weight is a decisive factor for successful fulfillment of the future targets in EU regulations regarding CO2 emissions from the automotive sector.CF reinforced plastics has been introduced as a low-weight material replacing/complementing steel and aluminium. Today’s CF production is based on use of a petroleum-based raw material, PAN, which is costly due to the starting precursor and the process for turning it into CF. Most PAN used in Europe is imported. The automotive sector has identified a need for a cheaper lower-grade CF to meet the demands of components in normal consumer cars. Lignin from kraft pulp mills is a green, sustainable, abundant and cost-efficient new potential CF precursor. The European pulp and paper industry has a need for additional revenues due to the global competition and the decline in printing and writing paper. Successful lignin applications like CF will create new business opportunities and new jobs also in rural areas where the pulp mills are located. The development of lignin-based CF is still in laboratory scale and material properties meeting high-quality product demands is the main challenge. Now a new technology in commercial operation makes it possible to produce lignin with new properties, higher purity and with less impact on the pulp mill operation. The idea is to tailor kraft lignin properties already in the lignin separation/upgrading and optimise the lignin for target automotive applications. The consortium has unique competence through the complete value chain to realise this new concept.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

Several lignin qualities from two softwood black liquors and one hardwood black liquor have been produced (stock lignins). The lignins, black liquors and the other streams have been chemically characterised and key process parameters have been determined. The industrial black liquors were used to produce two softwood stock lignins and one hardwood stock lignin via the LignoBoost process. Two further softwood lignins, which possessed lower melting temperature, were produced using a modified LignoBoost process. In addition to this, the stock lignins were further refined to produce improved derivatives. All of the lignins were dried and homogenized, had their thermal, compositional and spectroscopic properties examined.

All of the lignins produced were initially evaluated for filament spinning using a small scale monofilament apparatus. While all of the lignins could be melt spun to give monofilaments, the efficacy of melt spinning and quality of the filaments obtained varied greatly. The stock lignins were the most difficult to melt spin and the filament quality was poor so that they were of large diameter and contained flaws in the form of gas pockets. The lignins produced via a modified LignoBoost process and the derivatives of the stock lignins all provided high quality filaments of reduced diameter (< 25 µm).

One of the lignins produced via the modified LignoBoost process was selected for multifilament spinning. The melt and monofilament properties were excellent, however, difficulties were found during multifilament spinning due to the emission of volatiles. The resulting discontinuous filaments contained gas pockets. Owing to the thermal properties of this and the other lignins produced, a change of direction in lignin production and resulting properties was investigated. The result of these investigations gave rise to lignins which could be melt spun continuously without fibre breakage to provide excellent filaments of less than 11 µm diameter.

High quality lignin filaments were obtained from Work Package 1 and initial conversion tests were performed on larger diameter filaments at the small scale to investigate oxidative thermostabilization kinetics and carbon fibre properties. The carbon fibres produced had a tensile strength of 1100 ± 250 MPa, modulus of 70 ± 2 GPa, an extensibility of 1.7 ± 0.4 %, and had a diameter of 12.0 ± 0.5 µm. Once initial tests had been completed reduced diameter filaments were prepared for bulk conversion to carbon fibre and provided to project partners for surface treatment and sizing studies. The fibre samples were uniform and had little evidence of internal and surface flaws. Surface treatment and sizing studies commenced and progresses to maintain the project schedule.

Work package 4 was officially started in M10. The early work included inventory of different technologies available within the consortium for fabric production. Discussions regarding suitable choice of fabrics and matrices, manufacturing methods for reference composites have been started. With the delivery of small amounts of carbon fibre samples the efforts to prepare composite model samples have been initiated at SICOMP. A methodology has been selected and first trials have been performed. The work related to prepare Case studies was started prematurely by the partners in the work package. A load bearing component was identified by the partners as the selected case-study component.

A risk register has been elaborated. The risks have been evaluated by impact and probability during a work shop with all GreenLight partners.

In WP6, a dedicated project website has been developed alongside an internal communication tool. A visual identity, including logos, templates and style guide has been created for the project. Press releases have been published and the dissemination plan for the project is being developed. In September 2016 a web meeting took place between the work package leader (NetComposites) and BBI to discuss how best to integrate our dissemination activities with the funding body. An ongoing discussion regarding exploitation is taking place. The outputs from this have been factored into the initial exploitation plan (July 2016). One option is use the EC exploitation booster service is now available to the project and discussion is underway on the best time to use it.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

Although reports of the melt spinning of lignins are to be found, they are almost invariably spun using monofilament apparatus and mainly with fossil polymer additives to the lignin. Laboratory scale monofilament apparatus differ greatly from both pilot scale and industrial scale processes.

Our progress beyond the state of the art at M18 of 48 is therefore that we have demonstrated the continuous multifilament spinning (48 filaments) of 100 % softwood lignin into high quality and low diameter filaments. This part of the lignin carbon fibre value chain is critical since all downstream processes depend on it.

The mechanical properties of the carbon fibres produced at the early stage of this project exceed those reported in the literature and in publicly available documents. Carbon fibres produced in GreenLight are expected to improve incrementally throughout the project. The expected impact will be a robust melt spinning and conversion platform for the commercialization of filament carbon fibre made from lignin.
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