Waste material from the paper and pulp industry soon could be made into anything from tennis rackets to cars.
"We have overcome one of the industry's most challenging issues by discovering how to make good quality carbon fiber from waste," said Dr. Joshua Yuan, Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientist and associate professor of plant pathology and microbiology in College Station.
The research was published recently in Green Chemistry, the peer-reviewed journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry.
"People have been thinking about using lignin to make carbon fiber for many years, but achieving good quality has been an issue," Yuan said.
About 50 million tons of lignin -- or structural part of a plant -- piles up each year as waste from the U.S. paper and pulping industry, he said. Additional lignin could come from biorefineries that use plants to produce ethanol, yielding another 100 million to 200 million tons of lignin waste each year. Yet only about 2 percent of the lignin waste is currently recycled into new products, Yuan said.
"Lignin is considered as one of the most abundant biopolymers in the world," he said. "All this waste accumulates, and it will be great to use it for something."