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Research into “green” carbon fibres to contribute to coal phase-out

The Free State of Saxony, Lausitz Energie Kraftwerke AG, the Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology (IWU), the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research (IAP) and the Cluster of Excellence MERGE of Chemnitz University of Technology have signed a letter of intent on the InnoCarbEnergy project at the Boxberg power plant site

With the support of the Saxon State Ministry for Regional Development and the scientific expertise of the Cluster of Excellence MERGE “Merge Technologies for Multifunctional Lightweight Structures” of Chemnitz University of Technology, the Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology (IWU) and the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research (IAP), the power plant site Boxberg is to be given a new future perspective in the research and use of carbon fibres in the coming years. A letter of intent to this effect was signed in Boxberg on 16 September 2020 by Lausitz Energie Kraftwerke AG and Lausitz Energie Bergbau AG (LEAG), the State Ministry for Regional Development and the three scientific institutions.

The aim of the project “InnoCarbEnergy: Carbon, Systems and Mobility Solutions SAXONY” is to develop prototype pilot lines for carbon fibre structures to series production readiness in order to achieve the greatest possible impact - for the sustainable protection of the environment - in terms of energy efficiency, both during their production and use. The planned InnoCarbEnergy Valley complex is intended to cover the entire high-tech value chain: starting with the provision of alternative raw materials consisting of biopolymers, recyclates and tar, through hydrogen-based energy management for carbon fibre production and its further processing into semi-finished products and new-generation preforms, to applications in new mobility solutions of the future. For this purpose, the framework conditions are to be created for innovative lightweight construction companies to settle in the coal region in the future in order to develop and distribute high-tech products based on “green” carbon fibres.

A basis for future jobs and apprenticeships in Lusatia

“InnoCarbEnergy, the joint project for the research and development of lightweight structures, will make a significant contribution to strengthening the economic power of the region. The cooperation of universities and research institutes with the energy company LEAG will create a basis for the jobs and apprenticeships of the future. This partnership is an example of what sustainable structural change can look like. For the Boxberg region, a way into a new industrial age is now opening up”, explained Thomas Schmidt, Saxony's State Minister for Regional Development.

In a first step, a fully equipped research pilot line for the production of carbon fibres is to be designed and set up at the LEAG power plant site in Boxberg in order to develop new production processes and methods of energy management and to test them under practical conditions. Further steps are to supplement and complete the pilot line with production modules for textile and plastics technology as well as automated interfaces for energy-efficient component production.

Project support from Chemnitz lightweight construction experts

The Cluster of Excellence MERGE of Chemnitz University of Technology is one of the signatories and will support the project as one of the partnering research institutions. “Today, we can already achieve enormous weight advantages of 30 to 50 percent compared to traditional components made exclusively of aluminium or steel by merging materials - especially with carbon fibres.  For this reason, we see great potential in the InnoCarbEnergy project, not only for affordable lightweight construction, but especially for the region, the people who live here and for the state of Saxony in general. In the Cluster of Excellence MERGE at Chemnitz University of Technology, numerous composite materials and new hybrid technologies, which allow such savings in mass while simultaneously reducing the cost of components and systems, have already been researched and developed for this purpose. Some of them are already being used in serial applications," said Prof. Dr. Lothar Kroll, director of the Institute of Lightweight Structures and coordinator of the Cluster of Excellence MERGE.

In addition to the signing partner institutions, other actors also play a decisive role in the success of the project. In addition to numerous SMEs from Lusatia, larger industrial companies are expected to be part of the project. The endowed professorship “High-Performance Fibers and Processing” at Chemnitz University of Technology, which is funded by the Polish Jastrzębska Spółka Węglowa Innowacje S.A., is also set to be involved.

The ground-breaking ceremony for the project-relevant construction projects is anticipated to take place in about one year.

Background: Structural development in Saxony's brown coal regions

The coal phase-out is one of the most demanding transformation processes of recent decades, also and especially in Saxony. For this reason, one of the objectives of the Free State of Saxony is to reposition the brown coal mining region of Lusatia for the future by developing new economic sectors in a sustainable manner, as it is particularly affected by the imminent end of coal mining. With the support of the Saxon State Ministry for Regional Development, Saxony's rural areas are to be revitalised. To this end, the Federal Government is providing a total of €40 billion over a 20-year period for four German states. Funding will be provided for projects that promote innovation and competitiveness in regions dependent on brown coal mining, promote energy efficiency and renewable energies, advance mobility and digitisation in rural areas and bring together nature and tourism in a sustainable way.

Further information is available from Prof. Dr. Lothar Kroll, coordinator of the Cluster of Excellence MERGE, phone +49 (0)371 531-13910, e-mail merge@tu-chemnitz.de

(Source: Joint press release of the Saxon State Ministry for Regional Development, LEAG, the Fraunhofer IWU and IAP and the Cluster of Excellence MERGE at Chemnitz University of Technology; Translation: Eva Laurie)

Mario Steinebach
17.09.2020

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