"We have overcome one of the industry's most challenging issues by discovering how to make good quality carbon fiber from waste," said Joshua Yuan, a research scientist for Texas A&M AgriLife and associate professor of plant pathology and microbiology in College Station.
The research was published recently in Green Chemistry, the peer-reviewed journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry.
"People have been thinking about using lignin to make carbon fiber for many years, but achieving good quality has been an issue," Yuan said.
About 50 million tons of lignin — the structural part of a plant — piles up each year as waste from the U.S. paper and pulping industry. Additional lignin could come from biorefineries that use plants to produce ethanol, yielding another 100 million to 200 million tons of lignin waste each year. Yet only about 2 percent of the lignin waste is currently recycled into new products, Yuan said.
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