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University of Kentucky Receives Grant to Turn Coal Tar Pitch Into Carbon Fiber



By Brooke Marshall

January 12, 2020 - The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) awarded the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER) a grant that will allow it to make coal tar pitch into carbon fiber.

DOE is funding the industry and the university a total of $1.8 million for the project.

The goal is to have CAER researchers convert coal tar - a byproduct from coke production - into mesophase pitch, a liquid crystal. Then they can take the product and have it spun into carbon fiber - a stiff, lightweight substitute to aluminum.

CAER is a leader in carbon fiber research, and it is already working on projects using carbon fibers.

If successful the hope is that the carbon fiber will be used for aircraft, automobiles, sporting goods and other high-performance materials. Researchers project this could increase the value of coal tar pitch up to 55 times more than its current value.

Many at CAER are enthusiastic about the opportunity. Matt Weisenberger, the associate director for materials technologies at CAER stated, "This is an exciting project for our research team. Being able to efficiently upgrade a coal byproduct into high-value carbon fiber for composites would be a terrific benefit to Kentucky’s and the nation’s manufacturers. It would add significantly to the coal value chain, further establishing Kentucky as a global leader in carbon fiber research and development."