A research team from the University of Newcastle (UON) has been awarded $753,468 from the Coal Innovation NSW Fund to investigate the possibility of transforming low emission coal into a carbon fibre material.
Carbon fibre is a high strength but low weight material that is currently used for transport vehicles (such as aircrafts) to reduce weight and emissions.
Advanced carbon manufacturing is a new high-value industry for Australia that could transform the way we view coal reserves and the products deriving from them.
Presently, carbon fibres are made from petroleum products, which are energy intensive and imported.
UON Research Associate from the School of Engineering Dr Rohan Stanger said if it is possible to substitute coal as a feed material, the resulting product is likely to have lower emissions and in large volumes at a significantly lower cost.
“We’ll be investigating whether coal can be transformed into a viable commercial product. By using a lower cost material to begin with – in this instance coal – we should be able to manufacture carbon fibres in large volumes at a much lower cost,” Dr Stanger said.
As the fibre reinforced composites industry is growing at a rate of 10 per cent per annum and is globally worth approximately $20 billion, carbon fibres could be applied across a range of industries from automotive manufacturing to resources and construction.
Dr Stanger explained that current carbon fibres can cost anywhere between $16-50 per kilogram, with around half the costs being feed material.
“At roughly 25 cents per kilogram, coal is a low-cost feed material and this would be a high-value use of our resource. Critically, it would make far better use of our coal’s unique chemical and physical properties without impacting climate change,” he said.
The project team includes Dr Rohan Stanger, Emeritus Professor Terry Wall, Associate Professor John Lucas and Laureate Professor Graeme Jameson.