New future for Alberta bitumen in advanced materials

$15-million international competition to accelerate development of carbon fibre

CALGARY, Alberta, Jan. 15, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Alberta Innovates is launching a major new clean technology initiative called the Carbon Fibre Grand Challenge, a $15-million international competition to accelerate development of carbon fibre from bitumen in Alberta.

This is part of a broader Alberta Innovates initiative called Bitumen Beyond Combustion to advance the development of non-combustion products and production technologies derived from bitumen contained in Alberta’s oil sands. The oil sands are among the world’s largest hydrocarbon resources with proven reserves of approximately 170 billion barrels.

The Carbon Fibre Grand Challenge is directed toward funding technologies and projects that can convert bitumen or asphaltenes into carbon fibre. The high strength and stiffness of carbon fibre make composites functionally superior to many conventional materials used in the transportation, infrastructure, construction and consumer product sectors. Asphaltenes are organic molecules found in bitumen that are commonly used in asphalt.

“Bitumen Beyond Combustion and the Carbon Fibre Grand Challenge aim to produce large-volume, high-value, non-combustion products from bitumen. It has the potential to shift the oil sands industry toward value creation and significantly enhance sustainability in a low-carbon emission economy.”

– John Zhou, Vice President, Clean Resources, Alberta Innovates

Applications are expected from Canada, the United States, Europe and Asia. The challenge will consist of three phases which will wrap up at the end of 2024. Three grand prizes of $3 million will be awarded to the winners who will be required to produce more than 10 kg of carbon fibre per day, with a line of sight to scale production to more than 250 tonnes per day.

Eventually, this production process could result in more than 100,000 barrels of Alberta bitumen being used daily to produce carbon fibre. Asphaltene derived from Alberta bitumen will be provided to competitors through an asphaltene sample bank operated by InnoTech Alberta, an applied research subsidiary of Alberta Innovates.

The competition opens Wednesday, Jan. 15. The deadline for Phase 1 applications is April 7.

Alberta Innovates invests in research, innovation and entrepreneurship to drive provincial economic growth and diversity. We ignite the power of innovation through our work with researchers, industry and entrepreneurs to move Alberta to a lower-carbon future, promote the responsible use of land and water, and contribute to the improved health and well-being of Albertans.

Alberta Innovates provides technical expertise, entrepreneurial advice and support, opportunities for partnerships, and funding to advance the best ideas. We support a broad range of research and innovation activity – from discovery to use. Collaboration is at the heart of what we do – bringing together bright minds and great ideas.

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Media Contact:
Dwayne Brunner - Manager, Media Relations  
Alberta Innovates