Carbon Fiber Sheet Made From Petroleum Waste to Revolutionize the Automotive Industry

Carbon Fiber Sheet Made From Petroleum Waste to Revolutionize the Automotive Industry

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Carbon fiber has been used as one of the most exciting materials in the automotive world due to its incredible strength to weight ratio. Nevertheless, one major downside of this composite material is that it costs an exorbitant amount of money to manufacture. Find out how researchers are making carbon fiber sheets at a low cost from petroleum waste.

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In This Article:


From Petroleum Residue to a Novel Way of Making Carbon Fiber Sheet

The new approach to revolutionizing carbon fiber was published on March 18, 2022, in the Science Advances journal entitled "Atoms to fibers: Identifying novel processing methods in the synthesis of pitch-based carbon fibers.


Growing Demand for Alternative Materials and Vehicles


In the world of automobiles, every car owner wants their vehicle to be faster while keeping it fuel-efficient. However, a more powerful car requires a bigger engine, and higher fuel consumption is inevitable. As a result, a plethora of research has attempted to improve fuel efficiency by reducing overall vehicle weight. This results in the development of lightweight materials that are robust enough to withstand physics at high speeds and cost-effective enough to replace steel in regular automobiles.

One of the novel materials under investigation is carbon fiber. Making car body panels and other parts from composite material is not a new idea. It is not rare to see a car with carbon fiber parts on the streets, either. However, being 15 to 20 times more costly than steel, carbon fiber has only been present in a few high-end models. The ongoing research aims to open the door for the carbon fiber to be used on even affordable vehicles by providing a low-cost alternative material and simple manufacturing methods.


Refinery Byproducts Turned Into a High-value Material

Regular carbon fiber is typically manufactured from polymers derived from petroleum. To produce carbon fiber, an expensive closing step is required in which the petroleum is graphitized. The expense of graphitizing petroleum may account for a significant proportion of the total cost of the final products due to high energy requirements. Therefore, instead of using refined and processed petroleum to initiate the manufacturing procedure, a new approach uses the refinery byproduct known as petroleum pitch. 

Petroleum pitch, also known as resin, is the heavy, black, viscous residue from refining petroleum usually used for low-value applications such as waterproofing wooden containers and sometimes even treated as waste. In general, petroleum pitch is inefficient for combustion and is too contaminating to be available as fuel given the stringent air pollution regulations. Nonetheless, petroleum pitch contains plenty of heavy hydrocarbons, making it particularly useful since researchers can exploit its chemistry.


Pitch-based Carbon Fiber Is Strong in Tension and Compression


The cost of petroleum pitch is merely 400 dollars for a ton, meaning that it is at least five times cheaper than the ordinary precursor needed to produce carbon fiber. In addition, synthesizing carbon fiber from petroleum pitch is exceptionally minimal, both in energy requirements and the processing procedure. Indeed, the journal mentions that petroleum pitch can be melted to produce fibers. Such a method requires less capital investment, allowing carbon fiber sheets to be made economically at 11 dollars for a kilogram.

The alternative carbon fiber made from petroleum pitch is cost-effective and outperforms conventional carbon fiber materials in terms of tensile and compressive strength. When it comes to a material's utility, tensile and compressive strength is critical since it determines whether the material can be useful in heavy-duty industries. On this account, pitch-based carbon fiber could be employed in a wide range of load-bearing applications, opening up entirely new uses for this material.

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Expanded Accessibility to Lightweight Automobiles


Given all the excellent properties mentioned above, the imminent widespread deployment of pitch-based carbon fiber can potentially expand accessibility to lightweight and fuel-efficient vehicles. This expanded accessibility, in turn, means significantly to every car owner. It is no longer infeasible to consider owning a powerful car with low purchase and operating costs. Who knows whether an economical car may boast a complete carbon fiber body panel in a few years to come while being able to reach 200 miles per hour with ease.

In conclusion, it is fair enough to claim that carbon fiber materials and fiber sheets will revolutionize the automotive industry. The future in which people can purchase carbon fiber cars in an affordable price range is now in sight.

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