I just found an interesting article about the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and their research on low-cost carbon fiber. Most of the carbon fiber is currently manufactured with petroleum-based base materials, and ORNL is looking at using biomass such as lignin as starter material for carbon fiber. This lignin would be a by-product of the process of creating cellulosic ethanol from renewable vegetation sources.
Lower cost carbon fiber would allow for use in many more applications where it is currently too expensive. Weight reduction could be accomplished in the transportation industries to conserve energy and resources. Low cost carbon fiber would find its way into many applications that need high-strength and low weight structures.
This research is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) National Energy Policy which aims to reduce petroleum demand. The Automotive Composites Consortium is interested in replacing steel in vehicles to reduce weight. Composites materials solve many of the problems associated with using steel in the transportation industry and lower-cost materials will go a long way towards gaining market share and acceptance.