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Lowering the cost of carbon fiber-Higher capacities

Higher capacities

In a further carbon fiber development, Harper has also partnered with ORNL on a project initiated through the U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Manufacturing Office’s HPC4Mfg Program. The program was designed to spur the use of high-performance super- computers to advance U.S. manufacturing via public-private partnerships. The project – Development and Validation of Simulation Capability for the High Capacity Production Carbon Fiber – will focus on analysis of critical processing factors, such as temperature, gas flow and chemical reaction, in carbon fiber production equipment. The purpose is to ensure designs provide the necessary uniformity to produce fiber of a certain quality, output and cost ideal for automotive applications. Results will then be validated at the Carbon Fiber Technology Facility, followed by testing in a commercial production facility.

According to Dr. Peter Witting, senior process technology engineer at Harper, the new one-year project with ORNL is a natural extension of the partnership forged over the pilot line for con- verting carbon fiber.  ‘‘The project is not at this stage designed for use with the low-cost carbon fiber process, but eventually it could help,’’ he adds. ‘‘Right now, the purpose is to develop an under- standing of the chemical kinetics and the role that plays in making carbon fiber.  This is a coupled thermal, chemical reaction, fluid flow model which requires sophisticated software and consider- able computing power to tackle this inherently multi-physics problem appropriately in a reasonable amount of time. In addition, the ORNL and Harper personnel’s understanding of the computational, chemical and process conditions complement each other in terms of a capability to address the difficult analysis.

‘‘Initially what we are trying to do is establish a model for the critical processing factors, which will have to be verified at ORNL’s pilot plant test facility, and then scaled to commercial size equipment. At that time, the analysis will help in process control and equipment design. So, it is a multi-phase endeavor in which steps cannot be taken in parallel. At this stage the project will not address fiber uniformity. However, in one of the later phases it can help us design equipment so that material properties like linear density, strength and modulus are uniform across the entire tow band.’’

Dr. Witting believes that the potential of the project to deliver higher capacity and lower cost carbon fiber production when all the phases are completed is high. ‘‘This one-year effort is one of many phases that will need to be executed,’’ he says. ‘‘Once all the phases are complete, we can use this to design equipment which can handle the very high filament count tow bands, such as 500k tows, that will have to be processed if carbon fiber is to be successful in automotive applications.’’

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