Coal-to-Carbon-Fiber Business Case Analysis Report

31 Pages Posted: 22 Nov 2022

See all articles by Francois Giraud-Carrier

Francois Giraud-Carrier

Weber State University

Evan Barlow

Weber State University (WSU) - Goddard School of Business and Economics

Date Written: September 22, 2022


Coal is a rich source of carbon and other valuable materials and is abundant and cheap in the United States. To increase domestic capacity for carbon fiber production, the creation of domestic coal-to-carbon-fiber (C2CF) supply chains that produce carbon fibers from Western coal are currently being considered. The hope is that by using coal pitch rather than polyacrylonitrile (PAN) as the carbon fiber precursor material, the cost of producing carbon fibers could be significantly reduced. In this report, we propose a two-stage C2CF supply chain: In the first stage, coal pitch is produced as the byproduct of an environmentally-friendly coking process, the Ekocoke process. In the second stage, the pitch is converted into fibers in a spinning system and used as precursor material to make low-cost carbon fibers for the production of injection-molded composite components.

We study the proposed C2CF supply chain from a business and economic standpoint. We build an integrated cost model to analyze productions costs and explore the market potential for coal- based carbon fibers produced through the C2CF supply chain in order to address the following questions:

1. Given the current state of coal processing and CF manufacturing technologies, is it possible to produce carbon fibers from coal domestically for less than $5/lb? If so, at what scale?
2. What are the main cost drivers of the United States C2CF supply chain?
3. Is there enough demand for coal-based carbon fibers to justify investments at the needed scale?
4. Which market(s) would support such a scale?

On the supply side, provided that demand for coke remains strong, our analysis suggests the economic viability of the coal-to-pitch plant is robust. The proposed coal-to-pitch plant can produce large quantities of pitch at a fraction of current prices. As a result, the proposed C2CF supply chain is able to produce carbon fiber for $5/lb. We identify several plausible scenarios that could bring the price down further to about $4.50/lb. Our approach minimizes the precursor cost leaving capital costs and energy as the next avenues for additional cost reductions. Based on our model, the selling price of coal- based carbon fibers would have to be at least $7.5/lb to make the CF conversion line financially attractive. High margins (in the order of 50%) are needed to cover the large upfront investment cost of the CF conversion line.
On the demand side, the small drone market (less than 55 lbs), even on the fast-growing consumer and commercial segments, is not large enough to support a CF conversion line of the needed scale. By contrast, in the massive US automotive market, a single use case could provide enough volume for at least one CF conversion line, and potentially many lines. Future work should focus on finding an automotive use case that best exploits the characteristics of the pitch-based fibers to deliver unique value.

Keywords: coal-based carbon fibers, business case analysis

Suggested Citation

Giraud-Carrier, Francois and Barlow, Evan, Coal-to-Carbon-Fiber Business Case Analysis Report (September 22, 2022). Available at SSRN: or

Francois Giraud-Carrier (Contact Author)

Weber State University ( email )

3801 University Circle
Ogden, UT 84408
United States

Evan Barlow

Weber State University (WSU) - Goddard School of Business and Economics ( email )

3801 University Circle
Ogden, UT 84408
United States

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