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Two Researchers Join UTSI’s Advanced Carbon Fiber Team

Two researchers have joined the University of Tennessee Space Institute’s Advanced Carbon Based Materials Group led by Ahmad Vakili.

Youqing Fei, research scientist, and Zhongren Yue, research associate professor, have extensive backgrounds in advanced carbon fibers. They are the first of nine faculty members – research and tenured professors – being sought as UTSI pushes to upgrade its educational and research levels and to position itself for more direct impact in these same areas in Tennessee.

“We are pleased to have the two experienced research professor scientists join Professor Vakili’s team as it moves ahead with this innovative research into the potential of manufacturing low-cost carbon fibers and applications development,” said Donald C. Daniel, UT associate vice president and UTSI’s chief operating officer.

“We share Ahmad’s enthusiasm about the long-range potential of producing light-weight, high-strength, pitch-based carbon fibers with a wide range of applications. Fei and Yue are excellent additions to the team.”

Vakili, professor of Aerospace Engineering, says the new team members “will be valuable in helping us reach the Institute’s goal of attracting business partners to assist in establishing a manufacturing capability in Middle Tennessee.”
Vakili says carbon fiber is “one of the strongest fibers that is also light weight and can be used in a large number of applications.” It is very strong and highly resistant to chemical substances, according to the professor.

UTSI is collaborating with UT Knoxville on the application of carbon fibers in reinforcing concrete, and preliminary results indicate significant improvement can be obtained. The Institute has received funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation through congressional appropriations sponsored by Congressmen Lincoln Davis, Lamar Alexander, and Zach Wamp.

Fei earned a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from Dalian University of Technology in Dalian, China, in 1984. His master’s degree and Ph.D., both in Materials Science, were earned at Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Japan in 1988 and 1991 respectively.

His 15 years of experience in research and development of advanced carbon fibers and composites have included serving as director of Fiber Technology and Products with the MER Corporation in Tucson, Ariz. As senior staff engineer with ConocoPhillips in Ponca City, Okla., Fei has developed solutions to varied challenges for current and “next generation” technologies.

As senior program manager at Harper International in Buffalo, N.Y., Fei was responsible for developing new processing technologies for large-scale production of carbon fibers. Other experience included his being a member of the research staff at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, and a research scientist at University of Kentucky’s Center for Applied Energy Research. As a post-doctoral Fellow, he led and managed projects funded by the Department of Energy and Oak Ridge National Laboratory on multi-dimensional carbon fibers and reinforced carbon composites for nuclear fusion applications.

Fei is a member of the American Chemical Society, American Carbon Society and the Carbon Society of Japan. He has authored nearly 50 papers in journals and conference proceedings and a chapter in a book and holds several patents.

Yue earned a Ph.D. in Polymer Chemistry and Physics in 1995 from Zhongshan University in Guangzhou, China. His master’s degree in Polymer Materials in 1987, and his bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering in 1984, both came from the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei.

He has 22 years research experience on carbon fibers, including three years on surface treatment of the fibers, 10 years on activated carbon fibers, and nine years on high performance PAN-based fiber.

Before joining UTSI, Yue had been a research scientist at the University of Illinois in Urbana. As a post-doctoral research associate at Urbana, he invented a novel method for producing activated carbon fibers by chemical activation. Before that, as a “post-doc” at Mississippi State University, he played a major role in the carbon fiber composite interface project funded by the National Science Foundation.

For two years Yue was an assistant professor at the Materials Science Institute, Zhongshan University, where he invented a new method for preparation of nanoparticles of noble metals. As a graduate research fellow at Zhongshan University, he invented a new method for preparation of natural fiber-based activated carbon fiber. He also was an assistant researcher and lecturer at Polymer Materials Institute, Anhui University, in Hefei from July 1987 to September 1992. Yue holds several patents and has published in numerous publications.

Youqing Fei, center, research scientist, shows a section of a tiny extruded carbon fiber rod – lighter than a feather but very strong – to Zhrongren Yue, research associate professor, left, and Ahmad Vakili, who heads carbon fiber research at the Space Institute.
-UTSI Photo