Safer and More Effective Route for Polyethylene-Derived Carbon Fiber Fabrication Using Electron Beam Irradiation
As a precursor constitutes 50% of total production cost, adopting low-cost precursors for carbon fiber (CF) fabrication has been used as a major strategy to translate exotic carbon fiber technology into a commercial market. Polyethylene (PE), one of the cheapest and the most widely used plastics, has gained lots of tractions as a low-cost CF precursor ensuring stable price and supply. However, the major problem is that the only known CF fabrication protocol using PE includes sulfonation process, which generates toxic SOx fumes. Such toxic fuming does not comply safety and environmental regulations, thereby obstructed bringing PE based CFs into the real world applications. In this study, for the first time, we could demonstrate the fabrication of PE based carbon fiber without SOx fume generation by adopting electron beam pre-treatment. Electron beam technology served various industry fields for decades and it has been well known that active radicals are introduced into polymer chains by electron beam irradiation. Those active radicals are speculated to enable stabilization under significantly mild condition where no toxic fumes were generated. As a result, carbon fiber with sound properties reaching tensile strength of 1.3 GPa could be fabricated through shorter processing time.