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Carbon fiber conversion from petroleum waste was discovered by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in collaboration with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Western Reserve University as part of joint research upon the request of the United States government.

Petroleum Waste to Carbon Fibers

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(Photo : PEDRO PARDO/AFP via Getty Images)

The new study was published in Science Advances on March 18 wherein researchers used the polymer pitch as a starting material before discovering the way to turn a petroleum byproduct into carbon fibers.

This is the first time that such a feat was made in the field of material science and engineering.

The initiative started at the request of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), which was looking for methods to create more lightweight cars, as per the study.

This is due to the fact that smaller vehicles require lesser fuel compared to larger vehicles.

Since carbon fibers are lightweight polymer yet strong material, it has the known reputation of potentially replacing steel.

The pitch-based material was derived from the preference of the DOE to utilize materials that match conventional steel panels but are economical.

Also Read: Low-Cost Rechargeable Batteries Opens New Avenues for Renewable Energy Storage

Groundbreaking Method

Researchers from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory were known for being adept at producing carbon fibers.

They were able to produce synthesized carbon fibers that possess strong tension and compression-as a sign of “startling accuracy,” as per Asmita Jana, a graduate student and study author, as cited by

This was made possible as the research team worked on the chemical reactions that allowed for the creation of a model that resembled the molecular bond of the pitch with certain properties of carbon fiber.

In light of the new technological advancement, the recent development in the field of material science and engineering hopes to replace the traditional and costly conversion of carbon fiber from processed petroleum.

Environmental Benefits

According to the DOE, lightweight structural materials for vehicles are beneficial to energy efficient.

Combined with integrated electronic systems from electric cars, they can decrease the emission of greenhouse gases; one of the essential measures to fight climate change and global warming.

First invented near Cleveland, Ohio in 1958, a carbon fiber, also called graphite fiber, is widely used in contemporary times to create specialized and high-performance technology like aircraft, racecars, and sporting equipment, said the DOE.

Greenhouse Gas Emission

The United States Environment Protection Agency (EPA) stated 29% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emission in the US comes from the transportation sector.

This made the US one of the largest contributors to GHG emissions worldwide.

The emission contributed to the trapping of GHG, including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and hydrofluorocarbons into the atmosphere.

This hastened the greenhouse gas effect, a natural climatic process wherein GHG absorbs solar heat; causing the Earth to warm on a global scale.

According to the EPA, GHG emissions in the said sector has significantly increased between 1990 and 2019.

As a result, the US environmental agency calls on addressing the issue of climate change through various measures, such as decreasing fuel consumption from vehicles.

With this, the engineering achievement of MIT researchers and their collaborators regarding carbon fiber can hopefully embed the theoretical underpinnings of their method-into the automotive and other concerned industries that can mitigate the effects of climate change.

Related Article: New Hope for Climate Change: Electric Cars Could Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

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