Finland-headed forest industry major Stora Enso Oyj and Cordenka GmbH & Co KG, a leading producer of premium-quality industrial viscose fibres have signed a joint development agreement (JDA) to develop precursors for bio-based carbon fibre. The co-development is driven by the need for high-performance carbon fibre in transportation, construction, and power generation.
Owned by Beautiful Mind Capital (BMC), a European private equity firm based in London, UK, and Shanghai, China, Cordenka is the world’s largest producer of industrial rayon. Cordenka spinning plant in Obernburg, Germany has an annual capacity of 32 000 tonnes of industrial rayon yarns. The company has converting operations are located in Obernburg, Mühlhausen, and in Gorzow, Poland.
Upscale to pilot scale
Stora Enso has been developing the technology for manufacturing carbon fibre from wood-based raw materials, i.e. dissolving pulp and lignin, at a laboratory scale. The JDA with Cordenka aims at upscaling the precursor development process to pilot-scale operation.
It is exciting to partner up with Cordenka to develop bio-based carbon fibre that replaces oil-based raw materials. Our ambition is to provide industrial composite producers with a sustainable, yet cost-competitive, carbon fibre made from renewable and fossil-free materials. Thus, we continue to contribute to Stora Enso’s vision of a low-carbon society. We also look forward to attracting more partners downstream in the value chain, such as carbon fiber companies, to join the collaboration, said Markus Mannström, Executive Vice President of Stora Enso’s Biomaterials division.
The precursor development is carried out with specialised manufacturing spinning equipment at Cordenka’s Obernburg production site in Germany. The venture is supported by BMC as part of its strategy to extend the reach of Cordenka into new growth markets and Asia.
Stora Enso and Cordenka are a natural fit. Stora Enso has developed important new technology and Cordenka has critical manufacturing expertise. Both companies have been manufacturing products based on renewable resources for decades and both are market leaders in their respective fields. Making carbon fiber precursors for composite reinforcement from wood-based feedstock is a major leap forward in material science, said Kurt Uihlein, Chief Marketing Officer of Cordenka.
Greener wind with bio-based carbon fibre
Carbon fibre demand is increasing steadily at an annual growth rate of 10 percent. The target of the partnership will be on developing carbon fiber initially for industrial applications requiring low weight and high mechanical performance, such as pultruded laminates used in manufacturing wind energy rotor blades.
Today, 20 percent of the global carbon fibre supply is used by the wind energy industry. Conventional carbon fibre is made from PAN (polyacrylonitrile) which is an oil-based raw material.
The raw materials for bio-based carbon fibre are cellulose and lignin, which come from wood biomass. In the bio-based carbon fibre process, cellulose is converted to viscose and mixed with lignin to form the spinning dope. The dope is spun into precursor fibre that is thermally converted to carbon fibre.