Home » Petroleum Residue Can Replace Carbon Fibers in Automobile Parts, Says American Research

Petroleum Residue Can Replace Carbon Fibers in Automobile Parts, Says American Research

by Coffee Table Science
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, have found a way of making lightweight materials from petroleum residue for automobiles to improve their efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is a cost-effective alternative for materials made from carbon fiber.
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A heavier car needs a heavy engine, strong brakes and other structural materials for efficient working. Carbon fiber is required to make these materials. Automobile parts made from carbon fiber are more expensive than materials made from aluminum or steel.
The Department of Energy (DOE) in the U.S. was seeking methods to enhance the efficiency of cars and reduce the consumption of fuel by decreasing their overall weight. Researchers were looking for ways to make lightweight, cheap and safe materials that could replace steel.
As carbon fiber could not be used to make lightweight structural materials for all automobiles, therefore, researchers aimed to develop low-cost materials through simple processing methods using petroleum residue.
These carbon fibers are made from polymers such as polyacrylonitrile-derived petroleum and are costly. “The cost of the polymer can account for more than 60 percent of the total cost of the final fiber,” said Nicola Ferralis, a research scientist at MIT. Instead of using these fibers, the research team found a new approach to using the petroleum residue left after the refining process, a material known as petroleum pitch.
“Pitch is incredibly messy. It’s a hodgepodge of mixed heavy hydrocarbons, and that’s actually what makes it beautiful in a way because there’s so much chemistry that can be exploited. That makes it a fascinating material to start with.” said Ferralis.
The MIT researchers collaborated with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee, whose researchers are experts in manufacturing carbon fibers under various conditions. Under expert guidance, the researchers found favorable conditions of pitch to carry out further fabrication experiments. These experiments showed the data or results about the performance of the pitch.
“The process that you need to actually make a carbon fiber (from the pitch) is actually extremely minimal, both in terms of energy requirements and in terms of actual processing that you need to do,” said Ferralis.
The experiment results showed that carbon fibers made from petroleum residue were strong in tension and compression. This means that the materials made from these fibers could be used for many weight-bearing applications. The new carbon fiber made was cost-effective, efficient and offered many advantages over the conventional carbon fiber.
“The new route we’re developing is not just a cost effective,” said Ferralis “It might open up new applications, and it doesn’t have to be vehicles. Part of the complication of making conventional fiber composites is that the fibers have to be made into a cloth and laid out in precise, detailed patterns. The reason for that is to compensate for the lack of compressive strength. It’s a matter of engineering to overcome the deficiencies of the material, but with the new process, all that extra complexity would not be needed.”
The detailed study has been published in the journal Science Advances.

Contributed by: Sunaina Dolwani

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