Carbon fibres made from algae

Researchers from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) developed a way to make carbon fibres, often used as reinforcement for materials, from algal oil, producing a negative carbon footprint.

Carbon fibres have a lot of advantages: they have high tensile strength, low weight, high temperature tolerance, etc. That’s why they are often used to reinforce materials or used on their own.

The TUM researchers now developed a way to produce carbon fibres whilst removing CO2 from the atmosphere, by utilising algae. When they grow, algae absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, producing algal oil. In turn, this algae oil is converted into polyacrylonitrile (PAN) fibres. Using energy from parabolic solar reflectors, the PAN fibres are then charred to yield carbon fibres in a CO2 neutral, even negative way. The researchers calculated that the algae carbon fibres extracts more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it sets free.

As proof of concept, the study developed composite construction materials of carbon fibres and hard rock, like granite. Not only are they CO2 negative, they are also lighter than aluminium and stronger than steel. The researchers used this material to make an e-scooter.

Photos: A. Battenberg / TUM