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Making structured carbon fibers from polyethylene

By Gerald Ondrey |

Researches at the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL; Oak Ridge, Tenn.; www.ornl.gov) are developing a process that makes carbon fibers with customized surface contours from polyethylene-based fibers. The patent-pending technique uses a combination of fiber-spinning and a sulfonation technique developed at ORNL. By controlling the process conditions, the scientists are able to tune the porosity of the fibers, making the material potentially useful for filtration, catalysis and electrochemical energy harvesting, says ORNL. Carbon fibers with unique cross-sectional geometry, from hollow circular to gear shaped (photo), have been produced. Oak Ridge National Laboratory Fiber bundles are first made by a multi-component melt extrusion-based fiber-spinning method. The fiber bundle is then sulfonated in an acid bath, which converts the plastic fiber into an infusable form — a black fiber that no longer melts. Heating to very high temperatures volatizes all other elements except carbon. The process may also be an economical route to making lightweight materials, since the raw materials can be waste plastic bags, carpet backing scraps and salvage, which is inexpensive and abundant, according to…
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