Carbon Fibre Grand Challenge

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Overview

The Carbon Fibre Grand Challenge (‘CFGC’) is a $15 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 asphaltenes and promoting their use in manufactured products. 

The CFGC is part of an 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, 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 price of asphaltene feedstock from Alberta bitumen is estimated to be one to two orders of magnitude lower than polyacrylonitrile ($2 – 5 USD / lb) feedstocks.

Carbon fibre from bitumen-derived asphaltenes are 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.

The Carbon Fibre Grand Challenge is directed towards funding the development of technologies that can convert Alberta oil sands asphaltenes (‘AOA’) into carbon fibre.[1] Alberta Innovates is working with partners to support Phases II and III of the CFGC.  The Clean Resource Innovation Network (‘CRIN’) is co-funding Phase II of the CFGC with Alberta Innovates.

[1] 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”.  

Rationale

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.

Program Details

There are three phases to the CFGC.  Phase I concluded in February 2021. Applicants to Phase II and III are not required to have participated in Phase I.

Phase II – Scaling: July 2021 – December 2022

  • Goal: consolidate learnings from Phase I to produce carbon fibre from AOA at lab scale with properties desired by commercial end-users, and to develop a process with line of sight to a demonstration plant that can be commercially scaled.
  • Applicant Objective: produce CF that meets minimum quality specifications desired by commercial end-users, using bitumen-derived AOA and develop a pathway to managing the sulfur and metal content from the asphaltenes.
  • Targeted Outcomes:
    • carbon fibre production of >10 grams per day with tensile strength >3,000 MPa and modulus >250 GPa or other strength/modulus combination that meets a demonstrated commercial need;
    • potential end uses identified and/or validated;
    • if short fibres are the project focus in Phase II the target length is 6 mm with 7 µm diameter ­or other length/diameter combination that meets a demonstrated commercial need;
    • preliminary energy requirements for the proposed CF manufacturing process and corresponding greenhouse gas emissions profile;
    • preliminary cost expectations for carbon fibres manufactured using the process developed in Phase II.
  • Funding: $200,001 up to $500,000 CAD awarded to successful applicants. A total of $5,000,000 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.
  • Matching Funds:
    • 50% of the total eligible costs is the target for the project, however, consideration will be given to applications with less than 50% matching funds
  • Application Deadline: April 27, 2021 at 2:00 PM MDT

Applicant Objective: Produce carbon fibres that meet minimum quality specifications using Alberta oilsands asphaltenes.

Phase III – Demonstration: January 2023 – December 2024

Applicant Objective: Design, development, and demonstration of a pre-commercial carbon fibre production process using Alberta oilsands asphaltenes.

Application Process and Eligibility

The Carbon Fibre Grand Challenge Phase II 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 either the Alberta Innovates (for International or Canadian research teams) or the CRIN (for Canadian research teams only) 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.

Project Partner Eligibility Criteria

Any Project Partner(s) is(are) required to satisfy the following criteria:

  • demonstrate the relationship between the Applicant and the Project Partner(s) does not create a conflict of interest;
  • be in good financial standing with Alberta Innovates and its subsidiaries InnoTech Alberta and C-Fer Technologies;

Other funding agencies are considered eligible Project Partners.

Project Eligibility Criteria

To qualify for funding, all Projects must:

  • be completed by December 31, 2022; and
  • submit to other criteria that Alberta Innovates and/or CRIN may develop from time to time.

Application Process

All submissions will be made through Alberta Innovates’ application portal. 

Applicant Webinar

An applicant webinar hosted by Alberta Innovates will occur on March 23 from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. MST. This Microsoft Teams Live event will feature a question-and-answer session. The slide presentation will also be available on this website as of March 24, 2021.

Register for this webinar.

Registered guests will receive the link to the webinar by March 22, 2021

Evaluation Process

Alberta Innovates and CRIN will leverage internal staff and external expert reviewers to evaluate Applications submitted.  Alberta Innovates and CRIN retain the sole right to determine the evaluation process and do not disclose the names of reviewers to ensure their objectivity and impartiality.  All reviewers are subject to confidentiality, non-disclosure, and conflict of interest policies set by Alberta Innovates and CRIN.

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Feedstock

Asphaltenes used in Projects funded by this Grand Challenge must be derived from Alberta oilsands bitumen.  No exceptions will be made.  Applicants may elect to source AOA on their own or through the Asphaltene Sample Bank (ASB) operated by InnoTech Alberta.  Applicants are asked to indicate on the application form if they will source samples from the ASB.  Applicants that do not source AOA from the Asphaltene Sample Bank are required to demonstrate the Alberta origin of the asphaltenes and submit a sample to Alberta Innovates for characterization. Specification Sheets for the samples available from the ASB can be found below.

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