New future for Alberta bitumen in advanced materials

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.

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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.

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.

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

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

Applications are expected from Canada, the United States, Europe and Asia.

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