Manufacturing of High Performance Cellulose Fibres to Replace Glass fibres & Carbon Fibre Precursors

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Aerospace Engineering


To reduce society's dependence on petroleum based non-renewable polymers, large scale utilization of naturally occurring, abundantly available polymers such as cellulose needs to be developed. One of the major challenges in large scale utilization of cellulose from biomass is dissolution and processing of cellulose to prepare downstream products such as high performance textile fibres. The Viscose method is the most common way to manufacture cellulose fibres; however, it is a complex, multistep process which involves use of very aggressive chemicals and requires a large volume of fresh water. In the 1970s, petroleum based synthetic polymer fibres such as polyester and nylon were commercialised and were proven to be more economical than producing cellulose fibres via the Viscose method. Hence, the production of cellulose fibres was reduced from over 1.3 million tons per year in 1973 to 0.4 million tons per year by 2008 (Source: International Rayon and Synthetic Fibres Committee).

To overcome this issue of processing of cellulose we are proposing to develop an environmentally benign method of manufacturing of high performance cellulose fibres using "Green Solvents". The proposed research will help develop sustainable and high performance cellulose fibres which can in-principle replace heavy glass fibres (which requires high energy during its manufacturing) and non-renewable polymer precursors used for manufacturing of carbon fibres which are widely used in composites for aerospace, auto, sports and wind energy industries in UK and abroad.

Planned Impact

The proposed work will have wide economic impact on industries ranging from biomass suppliers and processors, manufacturers of ionic liquids for biomass processing, polymer fibre spinning industry, carbon fibre manufacturing industry, polymer composite industry as well as consumers interested in development of sustainable products for auto and other industrial sectors. To achieve this impact, we are collaborating with number of industrial partners (Fibre Extrusion Tech, ValueForm Ltd, Composites Evolution ltd, SHD Composite Materials Ltd, Haydale Ltd), advanced manufacturing CATAPULT partners such as the National Composite Centre, Centre for Process Innovation and research institutions (NIST, USA, Centre for Renewable Carbon, Institute for Textile Chemistry and Chemical Fibres, Bio renewables and Environmental Change Division, Institute of Biological, Environmental & Rural Sciences, Aberystwyth University) and public engagement centres such as Reach-out Labs in Imperial College and Centre for Public Engagement at Bristol. The representatives from the industrial as well as the research institutes will participate in our industrial advisory board to help us on pathways to commercialisation and to achieve maximum research as well as industrial/economic impact. We will conduct regular industrial advisory board meetings to ensure the engagement and communication across all our industrial and research partners. We will also organise yearly workshop at Bristol to showcase major achievements of the proposed research work and get feedback from our partners to ensure maximum industrial/economic impact.

To ensure engagement with the general public and especially school children, we are working with the Reach-Out-Lab in Imperial College and the Centre for Public Engagement at University of Bristol. As a part of the school engagement activities, we will organise specific lectures for school students on cellulose fibres and bio-composites. We will also hold a workshop on the same topic to engage number of schools around Bristol and London with the help of Reach-Out-Lab (Imperial Collage) and the Centre for Public Engagement at University of Bristol.


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Description The research is still at a relatively early stage, being focussed on the development of the methods that will enable the production and development of fibres. Progress has been made and strong and stiff fibres of properties comparable with those made by other processes have been developed, as well as fibres using some less commonly used precursors. Recent improvements in the methods and processes that are being used to generate high quality solutions to deliver improved fibre spinning and reduce in-fibre defects and variability have been very successful in increasing the strength and stiffness of the fibres produced, bringing us in sight of the property targets set out in the original proposal. Material added for 2017. The target of generating a cellulose fibre with properties comparable to those of glass fibres in terms of specific stiffness have been met and initial attempts at carbonisation have been carried out. The factors controlling the generation of a high quality spinning dope and converting that into fibres are now much better understood and the first composites are being made to assess the fibre properties when incorporated into a composite sample with an appropriate resin. Improved spinning equipment has been built allowing better control of the process including improved data capture.
Exploitation Route The work to date has met the first target in terms of the development of a high stiffness cellulose fibre. There is a significant amount of work to be done to scale up from what is currently very much laboratory production of enough fibre to measure fibre properties to the production of enough fibre of reliable performance to measure composite properties, or the properties in other potential application areas such as biomedical, where first contact has been made with a potentially interested industrial user of this class of fibre.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Agriculture, Food and Drink,Education,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Transport

Description The project returned a report which has fed into a number of outputs in terms of facilitating further grants and opportunities to commercially exploit some of the research. These are still ongoing.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Chemicals,Healthcare,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology
Impact Types Economic

Description Are Biocomposites Sustainable?. Seminar at the National Composites Centre. 31st Jan 2017. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The event was organised by the UK National Composites Centre to inform a wide audience about developments in biocomposites across a wide range of applications and sectors. One of trhe researchers on the project presented a paper on "Sustainable and affordable composites for automotive applications".
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017