Future of carbon fibre is here

Thanks to breakthrough Deakin research, the University and LeMond Composites have joined forces in a $58 m deal to revolutionise the use of carbon fibre across the world.


The partnership, signed today by Mr Greg LeMond – three-time Tour de France winner and the founder and CEO of LeMond Composites – and Deakin University Vice-Chancellor Professor Jane den Hollander AO, allows LeMond Composites to license new technology from Deakin’s world-leading carbon fibre research centre, Carbon Nexus.




The technology, developed by Carbon Nexus PhD student Maxime Maghe and Carbon Nexus General Manager Steve Atkiss, has the potential to reduce the energy used in carbon fibre production by 75 per cent and reduces the production process time from around 80 minutes to under 15 minutes.

In addition, the specialised carbon fibre production machinery required is expected to cost around 50 per cent less than current equipment. The smaller equipment footprint makes possible a 70 per cent reduction in the size of a carbon fibre processing plant.


Mr LeMond said it was difficult to fully grasp the global impact the technology would have on consumers.


“What Deakin and Carbon Nexus have invented here will feed the world with low cost carbon fibre and help make carbon fibre available to the masses,” he said.


“This could make Geelong the new composite valley.”


LeMond Composites will also consider the development of a carbon fibre manufacturing plant in Geelong, which would invest more than $30 million in construction and equipment and create dozens of jobs for Geelong manufacturers to take the carbon fibre of the future to the global market.


Victorian company and Carbon Nexus’ long-term industry partner Furnace Engineering has already benefited from the deal as the manufacturer of the specialised machinery required.


The globally unique, $34 m Carbon Nexus research facility was established in 2014 with support and investment from Deakin and all levels of government. Today’s announcement at the facility was attended by representatives from the State Government, the City of Greater Geelong and Geelong’s industry and business groups, including G21 and the Chamber of Commerce. Former Federal Minister the Honourable Simon Crean, Chair of Deakin’s Advanced Manufacturing advisory group, also spoke at the event.


The University’s Chancellor Mr John Stanhope AM said the partnership between Deakin and LeMond Composites demonstrates how Deakin research could be leveraged to benefit the Geelong region and beyond.


“Realisation of jobs and growth comes from the conversion of research and technological innovation into commercial outcomes,” he said.

“Deakin is in the innovation business and that means we’re in the jobs business as well.”

Prof den Hollander said the new technology was a game-changer for the future of manufacturing.


“We know carbon fibre has been in use in aircraft, high-end cars and bikes, among other applications, for a long time now, but it remains a niche product that costs a significant amount to produce.


“This new technology could revolutionise the advanced manufacturing sector locally, across Australia and around the globe, because it will make carbon fibre more affordable to produce, which will make it more accessible for consumers,” Prof den Hollander said.


“This is a huge global success story and it was incubated in our Geelong Future Economy Precinct by one of our very own future leaders – a PhD student working under the guidance of our gifted leadership in carbon fibre research.


“Australia has a rich history in innovation, but much of it falters before commercialisation. With this partnership, we’re reversing that cycle. We’ve shown that we can nurture new ideas through to commercial outcomes.”

Carbon Nexus Director Derek Buckmaster said the agreement with LeMond Composites was the first time Carbon Nexus technology had been licensed.

“Over the past three years, we have conducted many commercial research projects for external clients, as well as conducting our own fundamental research into understanding the chemical reactions that take place during the carbon fibre production process, with the aim of accelerating the reactions while reducing the energy required.


“Maxime Maghe and Steve Atkiss made a breakthrough discovery when they identified the significant factors controlling the reactions, allowing them to optimise the chemistry and accelerate the production process,” Mr Buckmaster explained.


“Optimised equipment designs based on the new process have also resulted in a significantly smaller footprint for future carbon fibre production lines. The smaller ‘fibre reactor’ equipment consumes significantly less energy than standard oxidation ovens and offers the potential to reduce capital costs and labour costs for carbon fibre production.”

Mr LeMond, who in 1986 became the first cyclist to win the Tour de France on a carbon fibre bike, has been a household name among cyclists for three decades, selling carbon fibre bikes under his own brand around the globe. He established LeMond Composites last year to realise his vision of affordable carbon fibre bicycles for everyday riders.


Mr LeMond said the ability to scale-up low-cost carbon fibre production had been the biggest hurdle to bringing the material to the masses.


“Deakin University’s manufacturing process will make it possible to localise manufacturing and make carbon fibre technology more accessible to a wider range of industries like transportation, renewable energy and infrastructure or any industry that benefits from using lighter, stronger, safer materials,” he said.


Prof den Hollander said the scope for future growth of Deakin and LeMond’s partnership had potential to help transform the future for Geelong.


“We all know that Geelong’s reliance on manufacturing has changed and the future will be driven by high-value advanced manufacturing,” Prof den Hollander said. 


“Deakin is passionate about supporting the communities we serve, working collaboratively with industry and relevant business and governments to drive forward solutions to the challenges our region is confronted with, which is why we have been heavily involved in supporting Geelong’s transition through projects like Carbon Nexus.


“Our University has played a key role in finding these solutions, leveraging off our world-class research, infrastructure, and industry and government partnerships. I am delighted to now work with Greg LeMond and his team to help find a way that helps Geelong lead the world.


“Just three months ago, Deakin joined with the City of Greater Geelong and G21 to launch “Geelong Economic Futures,” a blueprint for a number of projects that included scope for development to help lead this city’s future. Carbon fibre development was a key project highlighted, so it is pleasing to see an important part of this vision come to fruition.” 

Call for Papers for the Carbon Fibre Futures Conference



We invite submissions from all areas related to Carbon Fibre, Advanced Materials and Advanced Manufacturing. 

Submissions are invited under the following themes:
• Advanced Manufacturing and Processing
• Carbon Fibre Future Directions
• Innovative Materials of the Future
• Modelling and Composites Characterisation
• New Precursor Technologies
• Surface Modification and Carbon Fibre Characterisation
• Translational Research

To submit your paper all we need is the following: 
• Title
• Keywords
• Abstract (up to 500 words)
• A short Presenter Biography
• Presenter Photo

Get your abstract ready today and submit before the deadline of December 16, 2016. Notifications will be provided to authors at the start of 2017.

Submit here or visit the event website

Deakin research breakthrough for better carbon fibre polymers

A Deakin University researcher has improved the methods for the design and synthesis of high performance carbon fibre precursor polymers.

Dr Nisa Salim, a researcher within Deakin's globally unique carbon fibre research facility, Carbon Nexus, has developed advanced polyacrylonitrile polymers capable of producing fibres with enhanced structure and properties, using sequential distribution of monomers in conjunction with RAFT technology.

Dr Salim's breakthrough will enable the making of polymers that are capable of producing carbon fibres with enhanced structure and properties.

The improvements are a result of Dr Salim's prestigious Victoria Fellowship, which last year enabled her to visit several overseas carbon fibre composite research facilities in the United States.

Dr Salim spent nearly two months at the Polymer School at the University of Southern Mississippi, working with Professor Jeff Wiggins, whose research group has recently developed advanced protocols and customised laboratory facilities to design and synthesise the next generation of carbon fibre precursors using a variety of technologies including semi-batch RAFT polymerisation.

Professor Wiggins said it was an honour to host Dr Salim for a portion of her fellowship.

"She established strong international research collaboration and brought esteemed recognition for the research being conducted at Deakin University," Professor Wiggins said.

"Dr Salim is an outstanding ambassador for international collaboration and made a long-lasting impact on my students and research group."

The collaborative research between the Polymer School and Deakin University has led to the synthesis of nearly ten precursor polymers with high molecular weight and uniform order and distribution of co-monomers.

Dr Salim said it was a privilege to work with a group to solve various challenges in high performance polymer materials.

Also as part of the Fellowship-funded study tour, Dr Salim experienced hands-on training on the wold-class customised wet spinning line at the Centre for Applied Energy Research, University of Kentucky, where she worked in partnership with the carbon materials group led by Dr Mathew Weisenberger.

"I had the opportunity to make my own customised precursor fibres, by changing spinning conditions. The spinning of fibres on a customised pilot scale facility was a wonderful experience," Dr Salim said.

"A critical challenge of wet spun fibres is the presence of voids developed during the coagulation process. Previously, there were no reliable procedures to quantitatively measure the size and volume of pores in the fibres. The research program helped us to combine the right skills and shared knowledge to develop a method to quantify the porosity of these fibres.

"We are all excited about the outcomes of this research. The program I selected was perfect for me, I met so many amazing people," Dr Salim said.

Dr Weisenberger said he was also pleased with the project's success.

"Dr Salim did an amazing job developing the analysis to evaluate the porosity distribution in her precursor PAN-based fibres. I'm sure this work will be very valuable moving forward and we certainly look forward to staying in touch," he said.

The Victoria Fellowship is a highly competitive award given by Veski to leading young scientists to undertake programs in an overseas organisation on cutting edge technologies that contribute to Victoria's social/economic and scientific advancement.

Geelong is now emerging as Australia's 'carbon valley' since the establishment of the hi-tech carbon fibre facility, Carbon Nexus at Deakin University and the subsequent establishment of world leading carbon fibre stakeholders such as one-piece carbon fibre wheel manufacturers, Carbon Revolution and advanced composites manufacturer Quickstep Technologies.

The Deakin-CSIRO partnership is now commissioning a world-class pilot scale wet spinning facility, to be based at the University's Waurn Ponds campus, which will complete the carbon fibre value chain from molecular level synthesis of precursors through to fabrication of composite laminates using high quality carbon fibres manufactured on-site.

Dr Salim is an Alfred Deakin Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at IFM and she is currently working with IFM's Australian Research Council Future Fellow Associate Professor Joselito Razal to develop the new polymer formulations followed by wet spinning for making high performance precursors and carbon fibres.

The new knowledge and skills achieved during her Victoria Fellowship study tour will contribute towards identifying gaps in the precursor fibre spinning area and finding reliable solutions to those critical challenges.

Resins shape future for composites

russell-varley-instoryDeakin's new composite materials professor says improved resins will define the next generation of carbon composites.

Lighter, stronger, self-healing and morphing properties are but some of the features of composite materials that will appear in the coming decades.

According to Deakin’s new Professor of Composite Materials, Russell Varley, the only thing holding back such applications is the performance and functionality of today’s resins.

Professor Varley has joined Deakin from CSIRO’s Clayton facility where he spent 26 years honing his polymer chemistry expertise. He has collaborated with companies such as Boeing and Petronas, and with world class polymer experts like Prof Jeff Wiggins from the University of Southern Mississippi and Prof Frank Jones from the University of Sheffield.

Read the full story here.



Bridging the divide

The difference between running experiments in the lab and performing them on an industrial scale is vast. But Deakin’s pilot scale carbon fibre plant, Carbon Nexus, is helping researchers validate their laboratory results in a real world setting. And it’s not just Deakin researchers who are benefiting.bridging-gap

Dr Michael Hummel, a senior researcher in the Department of Forest Products Technology at Aalto University, Finland has been using the Carbon Nexus facility over the past two weeks to run trials on renewable carbon fibre precursors.

Dr Hummel and his colleagues have developed a new ionic liquid-based spinning technique for the production of continuous cellulosic filaments. The fibres – originally targeted for textile and apparel applications – showed high mechanical properties, which made them also interesting for more technical applications such as natural reinforcement in composite materials. But Dr Hummel needed somewhere with the necessary expertise in carbon fibre and ionic liquids together with a facility to carbonise the fibres. After a fortuitous meeting with ionic liquids researcher Dr Nolene Byrne from the Institute for Frontier Materials, he realised that Carbon Nexus could provide just what he needed.

’’Within the carbonisation process many variables exist,” explains Dr Byrne.

”Time and temperature are the obvious ones, but we need to consider the impact of other processing parameters. There are a total of 20 interrelated processing parameters which all impact the properties of the carbon fibre.

”The pilot-scale, single tow line at Carbon Nexus allows us to do research that is directly translatable to industry.”

Over the past week the researchers have run Dr Hummel’s cellulose and cellulose/lignin filaments under a range of different processing conditions and learnt a lot during the process.

”While some things we can learn by doing furnace testing, the proof is in the pudding and seeing these novel precursors run on the line was exciting,” says Dr Byrne.

Dr Hummel believes the filaments show great promise as precursors for bio-based carbon fibres.

“Cellulose and blends of cellulose as precursors for carbon fibre have the possibility of one day replacing glass fibre and meeting the needs for high volume application which require moderate tensile strength,” he says.

First birthday marks year of success for Carbon Nexus

In just its first year of operation, Deakin University's unique Carbon Nexus research centre has attracted industrial partners from nine countries, produced 75 batches of carbon fibre for research trials, and received nine local and national research excellence awards.

Carbon Fibre pilot line

The birthday celebrations began early with the announcement in May of a $4.7 million ARC grant for the new Future Fibres Industrial Transformation Research Hub (ITRH) to develop advanced carbon fibres and nanofibres to support more sustainable and advanced manufacturing.

And with the recent announcement of a $1.76 million Geelong Region Innovation and Investment Fund grant for Carbon Nexus and Quickstep to establish a dedicated automotive division to be located at Deakin University, the future of Carbon Nexus – and Geelong – is looking brighter every day.

Carbon Nexus Director Derek Buckmaster explained that the year of achievements was just the beginning for Carbon Nexus.

"The Australian Research Council (ARC) funding for the ITRH is one example of how government and industry are confident in Carbon Nexus' capacity to lead the way on the path to creating the world's best carbon fibre and to driving the jobs of the future," he said.

Mr Buckmaster, who has just returned from a visit to the United States where he participated in the inaugural meeting of the Institute of Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI), said the global manufacturing industry was growing increasingly excited about the future capabilities of carbon fibre and that Carbon Nexus was playing a key role in its advancement.

"There are so many reasons to be excited about the future of advanced manufacturing through the development of better, lighter, stronger and more cost-effective carbon fibre," he said.

"Carbon Nexus is well on the way to developing the most cost-effective PAN (polyacrylonitrile) based carbon fibre targeted for specific applications. This brings us one step closer to one of our main aims – reducing the cost of industrial-grade carbon fibre materials.

"Our carbon fibre production line is embedded within Deakin University, enabling innovative research outcomes and already working with industry on projects that are helping to drive the jobs of the future.

"Building a new industry takes commitment, an unwavering focus on innovation and strong partnerships between academia and industry – and that is what goes to the heart of Carbon Nexus."

Research Director Professor Bronwyn Fox agreed, noting that the first year of activities for Carbon Nexus represented the culmination of the vision that was seeded at Deakin in 2008.

"Seven years ago we imagined Carbon Nexus to be a world-leading carbon fibre research institute, attracting future industries to research and invest in Geelong, and now this vision is becoming a reality," she said.

Carbon Nexus by the numbers

  • Agreements with 11 industry partners from nine countries including the United States, South Korea, Russia, China, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Thailand.

  • The production of 75 different batches of carbon fibre for research trials – this equates to approximately five tonnes of material and 2,250 bobbins.

  • Processing of 18 different types of precursor materials, including PAN (polyacrylonitrile), cellulose, lignin and RAFT-polymerised precursor, from a range of research collaborators and industrial partners.

  • Nine local and national research excellence awards, including the Australian Institute of Nuclear Science and Engineering (AINSE) Gold Medal to Nisa Salim, the Smart Geelong Researcher of the Year award to Professor Bronwyn Fox.

  • An Australian Research Council (ARC) $4.7 million grant for the new Future Fibres Industrial Transformation Research Hub to develop advanced carbon fibres and nanofibres to support more sustainable and advanced manufacturing.

  • An ARC Discovery Grant of $345,500, for Carbon Nexus Research Director Professor Bronwyn Fox to investigate the use of spinifex grasses in carbon fibre production, in conjunction with the University of Queensland.

Future Fibres Hub

The Future Fibres Industrial Transformation Research Hub (ITRH) will build upon Deakin's already extensive expertise in carbon fibre development and advanced materials, which is led by the Carbon Nexus, within Deakin's Institute for Frontier Materials. It draws together partners from government, industry and higher education, including the Australian Government's national science agency, the CSIRO.

Industry partners include carbon fibre parts manufacturers Carbon Revolution and Quickstep Holdings, along with HEIQ Australia, Cytomatrix, and the Ear Science Institute Australia. These partners are contributing an additional $3 million towards the Hub.

Overseas research collaborators on the project include the University of Oxford, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Tufts University, University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland, Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, and the University of Southern Mississippi.