Lignin by-products from biorefineries has the potential to provide a low-cost alternative to petroleum-based precursors to manufacture carbon fiber, which can be combined with a binding matrix to produce a structural material with much greater specific strength and specific stiffness than conventional materials such as steel and aluminum. The market for carbon fiber is universally projected to grow exponentially to fill the needs of clean energy technologies such as wind turbines and to improve the fuel economies in vehicles through lightweighting. In addition to cellulosic biofuel production, lignin-based carbon fiber production coupled with biorefineries may provide $2,400 to $3,600 added value dry Mg−1 of biomass for vehicle applications. Compared to producing ethanol alone, the addition of lignin-derived carbon fiber could increase biorefinery gross revenue by 30% to 300%. Using lignin-derived carbon fiber in 15 million vehicles per year in the US could reduce fossil fuel consumption by 2-5 billion liters year−1, reduce CO2 emissions by about 6.7 million Mg year−1, and realize fuel savings through vehicle lightweighting of $700 to $1,600 per Mg biomass processed. The value of fuel savings from vehicle lightweighting becomes economical at carbon fiber price of $6.60 kg−1 under current fuel prices, or $13.20 kg−1 under fuel prices of about $1.16 l−1.