Carbon Fiber from Biomass: Clean Energy Manufacturing Analysis Center (CEMAC)

Anelia Milbrandt, Samuel Booth

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


Carbon fiber (CF), known also as graphite fiber, is a lightweight, strong, and flexible material used in both structural (load-bearing) and non-structural applications (e.g., thermal insulation). The high cost of precursors (the starting material used to make CF, which comes predominately from fossil sources) and manufacturing have kept CF a niche market with applications limited mostly to high-performance structural materials (e.g., aerospace). Alternative precursors to reduce CF cost and dependence on fossil sources have been investigated over the years, including biomass-derived precursors such as rayon, lignin, glycerol, and lignocellulosic sugars. The purpose of this study is to provide a comprehensive overview of CF precursors from biomass and their market potential. We examine the potential CF production from these precursors, the state of technology and applications, and the production cost (when data are available). We discuss their advantages and limitations. We also discuss the physical properties of biomass-based CF, and we compare them to those of polyacrylonitrile (PAN)-based CF. We also discuss manufacturing and end-product considerations for bio-based CF, as well as considerations for plant siting and biomass feedstock logistics, feedstock competition, and risk mitigation strategies. The main contribution of this study is that it provides detailed technical and market information about each bio-based CF precursor in one document while other studies focus on one precursor at a time or a particular topic (e.g., processing). Thus, this publication allows for a comprehensive view of the CF potential from all biomass sources and serves as a reference for both novice and experienced professionals interested in CF production from alternative sources.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages37
StatePublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

CEMAC is operated by the Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis for the U.S. Department of Energy's Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-6A20-66386


  • biomass feedstock
  • carbon fiber
  • clean energy
  • manufacturing


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