Reducing the weight of vehicles will reduce the amount of fuel required to operate them. In a study recently published in the Chemical Engineering Journal, scientists have chemically modified industrial waste and recycled it into a lightweight structural material that can be used in automobiles.
The new development will save fuel in private and commercial vehicles, as well as reduce harmful emissions by reducing the amount of fuel consumed. The lighter the car, the less diesel it “asks for”.
The researchers started with kraft lignin, a byproduct of the conventional pulping process. Kraft lignin is one of the main waste products of the paper industry, with a volume of about 50 million tons per year. Waste lignin is usually burned to generate heat, but this also releases CO2 into the environment. Chemical processing of kraft lignin into a more useful material will improve the overall environmental friendliness of papermaking.
“We carried out a chemical modification of the kraft lignin polymer, namely acetylation,” explains the first author of the study, Laszlo Szabo. “Optimizing the degree of acetylation was critical to our research.”
The controlled reaction was important to optimize the ability of kraft lignin to be compatible with another polymer, polyacrylonitrile. The goal is to obtain high-quality carbon fibers for creating an artificial composite. If acetylation is not performed correctly, the carbon fibers will be of poor quality.
As a result, the scientists managed to create thin homogeneous fibers without heat treatment, which degrades the quality of the fiber. When using the modified polymer, the fibrous mat showed an almost three-fold improvement in mechanical strength.
Similar engineering composites are widely used in spacecraft, automobiles, plastics, concrete, and many other products and technologies. When these researchers minimize the cost of making their new carbon fibers, the cars of the future may be lighter, more durable, and more economical. Considering that every industry uses transportation, everyone will save money and every business will be greener.