Can we make carbon fibre from algae oil?

Jon Lawson

Like granite or other types of hard rock, carbon fibres make possible all-new building materials. Theoretical calculations show if the carbon fibres are produced from algae oil, production of the innovative materials extracts more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it sets free. A research project spearheaded by the Technical University of Munich (TUM) is to further advance these technologies.

The most recent global climate report (IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C) considers manufacturing processes which use more carbon dioxide than they release to be an important option to get climate change under control.

The objective of the project started under the title “Green Carbon” is to develop manufacturing processes for polymers and carbon-based light-weight construction materials based on algae which may be utilised in the aviation and automotive industry, for example.

The development of the various processes is accompanied by technological, economical and sustainability analyses. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, BMBF) has dedicated funds amounting to around 6.5 million Euro to fund the research at TU Munich.

Due to their fast growth, microalgae like those cultivated in the technical algae centre at TUM’s Ludwig Bölkow Campus can actively store the greenhouse gas CO2 in the form of biomass. CO2 is mainly bound in sugars and algae oil. These can be used in chemical and biotechnological processes to produce precursors for a variety of industrial processes.

For example, oil-forming yeasts produce yeast oil from the algae sugars, which is a feedstock for sustainable plastics. Furthermore, enzymes can split the yeast oil into glycerine and free fatty acids. The free fatty acids are precursors for products like high-quality additives for lubricants, among others; the glycerine can be turned into carbon fibres.


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