The lightweight, fuel-efficient car of the future can be made using materials from Swedish forests. The research institutes Innventia and Swerea SICOMP have worked together in unique cooperation to develop the first carbon-fibre composite ‘demonstrator’ from softwood lignin.
The investments of recent years in test beds and R&D infrastructures to realise the vision of new lightweight forest materials are now starting to pay dividends. The research institutes Innventia and Swerea SICOMP are both part of RISE, Research Institutes of Sweden, and are the first in the world to unveil a composite demonstrator based on 100 percent softwood lignin.
Carbon fibre composites are strong and light, with many applications. Today, demand is mainly limited by the high cost. As a result, they are currently used primarily in products where performance is more important than price. By introducing cost-effective lignin-based carbon fibre, the material could also be used in ‘normal’ cars and other bulk products. Lighter cars would mean lower fuel consumption, and would also make electric cars more viable. Sweden can truly become a leading country when it comes to the bioeconomy and fossil-free vehicle fleets.
The demonstrator – a sandwich structure in which balsa wood is laminated with carbon fibre – is the first proof that it is possible to manufacture lignin-based carbon fibre, even if this is still only on a laboratory scale. The production of another demonstrator is already under way to demonstrate a future application within the automotive industry, a model car powered by a lignin-based battery.
“Our first demonstrator is helping us to understand what we need to focus on in our R&D work, so it’s particularly pleasing that we have now taken a big leap forward in the value chain. One of the biggest needs right now is to scale up for a continuous production process so that we can identify the challenges that always arise during upscaling. We hope that both industry and society will be bold enough to invest in this upscaling,” says Per Tomani, Focus Area Manager for Lignin & Carbon Fibre at Innventia.
“Alongside this development, intensive work is also taking place to develop the existing manufacturing methods for carbon fibre composites,” adds Birgitha Nyström, Research Leader for Materials Technology at Swerea SICOMP. “We believe in the large-scale production of lightweight materials, and the manufacturing methods for composites must therefore become more cost-effective. There’s no reason to believe that today’s fossil-based carbon fibres can’t be replaced directly with lignin carbon fibre in these production processes.”