Bio-renewable precursor fibers from lignin/polylactide blends for conversion to carbon fibers
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Lignin, a highly aromatic biopolymer extracted as a coproduct of wood pulping, was investigated as a suitable precursor for carbon fibers. Lignin was chemically modified and blended with poly(lactic acid) (PLA) biopolymer before melt spinning into lignin fibers. The chemical modification of raw lignin involved butyration to form ester functional groups in place of polar hydroxyl (–OH) groups, which enhanced the miscibility of lignin with PLA. Fine fibers were extracted and spooled continuously from lignin/PLA blends with an overall lignin concentration of 75 wt.%. The influence of chemical modification and physical blending of lignin with PLA on the resulting fiber was studied by analyzing the microstructure of the fibers using transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and scanning electron microscopy (SEM). The influence of blend composition on the phase behavior was studied by differential scanning calorimetry (DSC). The effect of composition on the mechanical properties was studied by tensile tests of the lignin/PLA blend fibers. The thermal stability and carbon yield of the blended fibers with different concentrations of lignin were characterized by thermogravimetric analysis (TGA). The microstructure analysis of carbon fibers produced from lignin/PLA blends revealed composition dependent microporous structures inside the fine fibers.