Carbon Fiber Mfg. Lab Opens at Oak Ridge


Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tenn.

The future of commercial carbon fiber may lie in the mountains of Tennessee. Oak Ridge National Laboratory, one of the nation’s top federal science research institutions, opened up a new carbon fiber manufacturing research facility this week to find a way to make the advanced material more cost-effective for commercial industries.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory pull quoteComposites — carbon fiber in particular — are increasingly common as companies strive to differentiate and improve their products, whether through strength, efficiency or simply aesthetics. Manufacturers, however, have been restrained by the cost of the materials; while some in the advanced materials industry call for $5-per-pound carbon fiber, others say that it will never happen.

Before the auto industry can truly adopt carbon fiber into production vehicles — the overarching objective for composite and vehicle manufacturers alike — they agree that costs musts decline. In the auto industry, carbon fiber is currently only available in prototypes, short-production supercars (and super golf carts) and the relatively high-priced BMW i3.

The aerospace industry, in attempts to maximize fuel mileage, payload and strength, uses carbon fiber in everything from unmanned aerial drones and fighter jets to passenger planes like the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

The scientists at Oak Ridge hope to change its place in place in the manufacturing sector by developing less expensive carbon fiber, starting with the cost of the precursor materials (around $5 per pound themselves), the processing into carbon fiber and the part manufacturing methods themselves. The new facility was opened with the second stage, the processing into carbon fiber, in mind.

The $35 million facility opened Tuesday, March 26, in Oak Ridge, Tenn., as part of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The ORNL is managed by the US Department of Energy, studying science and technology in the national interest. Among the carbon fiber lab’s co-inhabitants at ORNL is the Cray Titan, currently the most powerful supercomputer in the world.

The facility was made possible by a federal grant, as well as other private and public donors, such as vehicle manufacturers Ford and Volkswagen. The Oak Ridge National Lab is intended to be a bridge between the research lab and commercial production.

(Visit WATE Knoxville (with video) and for more on the ORNL opening.)

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