The Fossil-Free Car of the Future is in the Forest

09 February 2016

The Fossil-Free Car of the Future is in the Forest

Lightweight, fuel-efficient cars of the future can be made using materials from Swedish forests which Innventia claims reduces the use of fossil-based materials and fuel.

A research team from Innventia, Swerea and KTH Royal Institute of Technology says it is now demonstrating this by means of a model car.

Innventia explains that, together with Swerea, they are now able to present the first model car with a roof made of a composite using carbon fibre based 100 percent on softwood lignin. In co-operation with researchers from KTH, the car has also been equipped with a battery in which lignin-based carbon fibre is used as the electrode material. The car is toy size, a demonstrator manufactured on a small pilot scale, but this is a major step towards realising the vision of new lightweight materials from the forest as part of the future bio-economy.

According to Innventia, carbon fibre composites are strong and light, with many applications. It says that demand is mainly limited by the high cost. As a result, carbon fibre is currently used primarily in products where performance is the priority. Lignin is a by-product of paper pulp manufacturing and can be produced cost-effectively. Using lignin would lead to significantly increased access to a raw material that is also bio-based. It explains that even 'ordinary' cars and other everyday products could be produced from carbon fibre and claims that lighter cars lead to lower fuel consumption or longer ranges for electric cars.

In 2014, Innventia and Swerea launched a plan for how Swedish lignin-based carbon fibre could be available within a ten-year period. The next step according to researchers is a process line on a pilot scale with continuous production in order to identify the challenges that always arise when scaling up. In addition, larger quantities of carbon fibre are required to evaluate composites and composite components.

"Further efforts are required to achieve our goal. This demonstrator is a clear example of how co-operation between our test beds and R&D infrastructure helps us to move forward. Our work on various projects is aimed at using lignin in as valuable a way as possible," says Per Tomani, Team Leader for Lignin & Carbon Fibres at Innventia.

"Collaboration has definitely been a success factor for development. With the knowledge of lignin as a raw material possessed by Innventia, plus Swerea's knowledge of composites and the electrochemistry know-how of KTH, led by Professor Göran Lindbergh, we have been able to assemble the puzzle from three different quarters," says Project Manager, Anders Uhlin at Innventia.

"Alongside this development, intensive work is also taking place to develop the existing manufacturing methods for carbon fibre composites. We believe in the large-scale production of lightweight materials, and the manufacturing methods for composites must therefore become more cost-effective. There is no reason to believe that it will not prove possible to replace today's fossil-based carbon fibres with lignin-based carbon fibre in these manufacturing processes," says Birgitha Nyström, Research Manager in Materials Engineering at Swerea SICOMP.

The work has been carried out as part of the BioInnovation strategic innovation programme, a joint venture on the part of VINNOVA, Formas and the Swedish Energy Agency.

Photo provided by Innventia

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