The Carbon Fibre Grand Challenge (‘CFGC’) is a $26 million three-phase competition with the objective of accelerating the development of large-scale production pathways for short and continuous carbon fibre from bitumen-derived feedstocks and promoting their use in manufactured products.
The CFGC is part of the Bitumen Beyond Combustion (BBC) initiative by Alberta Innovates to further the development of non-combustion products, and their production technologies, derived from bitumen contained in Alberta’s oil sands. The latter are amongst the world’s largest hydrocarbon resources, with proven reserves of approximately 170 billion barrels and current production of 3 million barrels per day. At present, most bitumen products are destined for energy generation by combustion (such as gasoline, diesel, and heating oil).
Carbon Fibre (‘CF’) is one of the identified products that could be made from bitumen. The high strength and stiffness of CF, coupled with low density and high corrosion resistance, along with desirable functional properties (e.g. thermal or electrical conductivity) make composite materials that incorporate CF functionally superior to many conventional metals, wood products, and commercial polymers for use in electric vehicles, transportation, infrastructure, construction, and consumer products sectors. Alberta Innovates is working with CF manufacturers and end users, who have been providing market information and target performance specifications. Current demand for carbon fibre is constrained by the high costs of feedstocks and production technologies (primarily based on polyacrylonitrile or pitch) and incorporating fibre into mass produced end-products, like automobile components.
The Carbon Fibre Grand Challenge Phase III program is directed towards funding the development of technologies that can convert feedstocks derived from Alberta’s oil sands into CF. These feedstocks should be produced, or have the potential to be produced, in large enough quantities to supply a large-scale carbon fibre industry. These feedstocks may include, but are not limited to, asphaltenes and refinery feeds. The price of asphaltene or refinery derived feedstocks from Alberta bitumen are projected to be significantly lower than polyacrylonitrile ($2 – 5 USD / lb) feedstocks.
Carbon fibre from bitumen-derived asphaltenes is estimated to have significantly smaller environmental impacts than CF produced from other sources, including agriculture and forestry. Oil sands operators, CF producers and end users have expressed significant interest in carbon fibre derived from bitumen provided performance and cost criteria can also be met.
 Asphaltenes are defined as the fraction of the bitumen that is soluble in toluene and insoluble in n-alkane solvents. Because they are defined by solubility, there is no single molecule, chemical composition or structure that defines an “asphaltene”.
The Carbon Fibre Grand Challenge aims to produce new carbon fibre products and processes, reduce lifecycle GHG emissions of carbon fibres and aid in the economic diversification of Alberta. There exists significant potential to increase the value of Alberta bitumen and grow Alberta’s green economy, all while increasing employment and export potential.
The full Program Guide will be released in April 2023. There are three phases to the CFGC. Phase I concluded in February 2021. Phase II will conclude in July 2023. Phase III Applications will open on May 1, 2023. Applicants to Phase III are not required to have participated in Phases I or II.
Phase III: September 2023 – August 2026
- Applicant Objectives:
- In a repeatable manner, manufacture carbon fibre from Alberta bitumen derived feeds with consistent performance properties aligned to market needs.
- Incorporate carbon fibre manufactured in Phase III into prototypes of end use products and evaluate/validate the performance of the prototypes.
- Understand in great detail the environmental impacts of the manufacturing process and the techno-economics associated with the designed process.
- Targeted Outcomes:
- Continuous & repeatable carbon fibre manufacture of >1 kg per week with consistent performance properties over a period of time that allows for the understanding of the environmental impacts and waste streams associated with the manufacturing process.
- A minimum tensile strength >1,720 MPa and modulus >172 GPa or other strength/modulus combination that meets commercial needs and can be demonstrated through end user performance requirements.
- Projected commercial cost of carbon fibre <US$9 per kg or a demonstrated carbon fibre cost-performance relationship that is at least 50% less expensive than incumbent competitors.
- Line-of-sight to scale carbon fibre manufacturing process to 2000 tonnes or greater per year.
- Demonstrated market potential of products incorporating carbon fibre, utilizing >10,000 tonnes per year of bitumen derived feedstock by 2030.
- Building a small-scale prototype of an end product(s) (e.g. test parts) that include(s) carbon fibre.
- Potential of mass manufacture of identified end use products(s) identified above, concepts for their re-use and end-of-life disposition.
- Estimate of lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions and other socio/environmental impacts of the carbon fibre and their products;
- Funding: $200,001 up to $4,000,000 CAD awarded to successful applicants. A total of $20,000,000 CAD is available. Following a modest initial payment, funding will be provided on a reimbursement basis as milestones are achieved as the project progresses. Milestones are aligned with the project implementation plan. Alberta Innovates is working with partners to support Phase III of the CFGC. Funding partners will be confirmed with the full Program Guide release in April along with additional funding rules related to stacking and eligible/ineligible costs.
- Application Deadline: June 15, 2023, at 2:00 PM MDT
- Funding Decision Notification: July 2023
- Earliest Project Start Date: September 1, 2023
The Carbon Fibre Grand Challenge Phase III competition is open to technology developers, industry (including small, medium and large size enterprises), industry associations, research and development (R&D) organizations, post-secondary institutions, not-for-profit organizations, and government research labs, providing they are legally able to execute the Investment Agreements found in the Links section below. Applicants are not required to be based in Alberta or Canada but must demonstrate a clear value proposition for Alberta and Canada.
Applicant teams must meet the following requirements:
- Team qualification requirements:
- Demonstrated ability to modify bitumen-based feeds
- Demonstrated ability to prepare carbon fibre (> 10 grams per day)
- Demonstrated ability to evaluate carbon fibre end use application
- General Requirements:
- Canadian IP ownership or guaranteed ability to license to Canadian entities
- Spinoff companies are not required
- Proposal Requirements:
- Have a proposed carbon fibre manufacturing process.
- Preliminary energy requirements for the manufacturing process.
- Potential end uses identified.
Collaboration between multiple organizations with complementary expertise across the carbon fibre value chain is strongly encouraged. Collaboration can often represent a strong value proposition by demonstrating opportunities for leveraging knowledge, technology validation, and sharing of results.
The maximum project length for projects funded under this Call is three (3) years from project commencement. Projects could commence as early as September 2023 and must be completed by August 2026.
For International Applicants
Carbon Fibre is a controlled material governed by the Applicant country’s national export control laws. Should the Applicant be awarded funding in the Carbon Fibre Grand Challenge – Phase II, as part of Alberta Innovates’ reporting requirements, the Applicant will be required to report, in a confidential manner, technical details regarding the testing methods and manufacturing processes related to the carbon fibre developed in the Applicant’s project. The Applicant may also be asked to provide a sample of the carbon fibre manufactured in the project to Alberta Innovates. Applicants should ensure that they are familiar with their national export control regulations related to carbon fibre materials and are able to comply with Alberta Innovates’ reporting obligations in the event that success in the Phase II project triggers export control regulations and associated licensing requirements within their jurisdiction. Export control regulations and/or failure to obtain an export clearance (to the extent required) do not absolve the Applicant from the responsibility of reporting on technical details in a confidential manner and providing a sample to Alberta Innovates (and the Alberta Government who is Alberta Innovates’ sole shareholder). If an Applicant is unable to ensure that the reporting obligations can be fulfilled under their national export control regulations, then an application should not be submitted to CFGC – Phase III.
Project Eligibility Criteria
To qualify for funding, all Projects must:
- Align with the objectives of the Carbon Fibre Grand Challenge Phase III;
- Be structured with well-defined objectives, milestones, deliverables, and timelines to meet the Phase III targeted outcomes.
- Be completed by August 31, 2026.
- Any project that does not involve the production of carbon fibre from an Alberta bitumen derived feed will be immediately disqualified and not reviewed.
All submissions will be made through Alberta Innovates’ application portal. Applications will open on May 1, 2023, and must be submitted by June 15, 2023, at 2 pm MDT. Late applications will not be reviewed. The application process will be a single stage Full Proposal.
An applicant webinar hosted by Alberta Innovates will occur on May 3 from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. MT. This Microsoft Teams Live event will feature a question-and-answer session.
Registered guests will receive the link to the webinar by May 2, 2023
Feedstock(s) used in Projects funded by the Carbon Fibre Grand Challenge Phase III must be derived from Alberta oilsands bitumen. No exceptions will be made. Applicants may elect to source feedstock(s) on their own or through the Carbon Fibre Grand Challenge Phase III program. Applicants will be asked to indicate on the application form if they will require samples from the program. Applicants that do not source feedstock from the program are required to demonstrate the Alberta origin of the feedstock and may be required to provide a full characterization for the sample.
Further details on the specific samples that will be available through the Phase III program will be included with the Program Guide release in April.