Small is beautiful

This project grew out of excitement that PLA had a potential of being carbon negative. However, until most energy is generated by renewable means, this will not be the case. Anyway, check out the filament!

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About

The filaments and some background

sacks-of-plaThe filaments on offer are provided to you by a loose collaboration between various entities. To name a few, there’s C12 Negative (me), a Finnish owned online store for which I’ve been working since 2010 (e-ville & e-ville distribution Oy), a tiny Chinese filament factory, the manufacturer of PLA (NatureWorks) and Amazon.

The filament factory was chosen because of their use of high quality and low carbon foot print NatureWorks Ingeo PLA, their responsiveness to specific requests about the filament and acceptable quality of filament as measured by variability of thickness and roundness of cross section.

C12 Negative came into existence after a chain of thought sparked by a study that got widely reported (e.g. BBC article) in 2015. The researchers had discovered a new way to produce carbon nanofibers (CNF), which seemed both cheap and easy. The inspiring part was, that the carbon source for the fibers was atmospheric CO2. Due to the high cost of carbon nanofibers, it seemed (and still seems) like an interesting business. The electricity needed for the process would need to come from renewable sources and solar power was flagged as the most promising way to do it.

I actually bought some equipment (surprisingly cheap) so that I could attempt to reproduce some of the findings from the study. The equipment to measure the outcome of such an experiment is very expensive, but there’s labs that can be used for some hourly rate. I’ve actually run two batches of experiments already, currently pending results from the second batch. The resulting fibers from the first experiments were around a micrometer thick and very curled. The second batch of experiments seek to fix this so that fibers would be less than 100 nanometers thick and straight.

Carbon nanofibers seem to have huge potential to be used with a wide variety of applications, but currently all seem a bit marginal. A lot of new capacity to produce carbon nanofibers/-tubes with conventional processes has been added recently (a lot in China) and there might already be some oversupply of them. After reflecting a long time about how to start a CNF business, I came to the conclusion that it would be easier to start working with something that could be an application for them. I’ve been itching to do something with 3D printers, so the realization that PLA actually stores atmospheric carbon and could potentially work well with CNF made the decision clear.

Status

FrontierFila

I grew a bit unhappy with the name C12 Negative and felt it wasn’t such a good name after all. I’ve been doing a space game on my free time for a couple of years and had reserved the domain frontier.industries for it, so I decided to share it with the filaments and “rebrand” them FrontierFila. All new stuff about the filaments will be at http://frontier.industries/

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Alumina Crucible

Based on the data from my first experiments, where the carbon fibers pruduced were around one micrometer thick and curled up, I constructed an improved experimental setup where I use Alumina crucible instead of steel one => less iron Fresh lithium carbonate instead of reusing same => less lithium oxide New cathodes with thicker layer of zinc Longer initial, low current phase Based on the inspirational article I’ve used for the experiments, both iron and …

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IMG_20160619_222500

I finally managed to do the initial carbon nanofiber experiments during July! Just to heat the empty crucible to 730°C and keep the temperature there took me 15 trial-and-error iterations. I settled on induction heating, a steel pot on rock wool and ceramic chopsticks through which a fan contraption blew air through… I even made a video out of one experiment. A friend at a research institute was helpful enough to take a couple of …

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