The Development of Carbon Fibers

For many millennia, a variety of construction materials have been used in industry, ranging from mud bricks to concrete to steel and more. All the while, engineers have sought newer, lighter, and tougher materials for building anything from tools to buildings to vehicles, and today, a carbon fiber project may be among the most advanced innovations. Carbon fiber design is geared for making a light, tough, and flexible material, and a carbon fiber product may be highly desired in many different industries. A carbon fiber project makes use of carefully controlled heat and carbonation to make the final product, and the first carbon fiber prototypes in the mid 20th century paved the way for today’s carbon fiber projects of all kinds. How might a carbon fiber project be launched today, and what are some key advantages of carbon fiber manufacturing?

All About Carbon Fiber

As the name suggests, carbon fiber materials are based on tightly woven strands of carbonized fibers, and this is a fairly recent innovation. This material is known for being light but tough, and many different industries can make use of carbon fibers. In fact, it has been determined that carbon fiber composite may offer nearly 10 times the strength of steel with just half the weight, and carbon fiber can be flexible, too. Composites such as carbon fiber sometimes prove more flexible and effective than purer materials, and Lucintel believes that the composite materials market may reach a value of $38 billion by 2023. And ever since he 1960s, carbon fibers have been innovated as a way to make stronger and lighter materials than ever.

According to Zoltek, most of the raw material used to create carbon fibers is the precursor, 90% of which is made of polyacrylonitrile, or PAN. The remaining 10% of the material is made of rayon or petroleum pitch, and combined, they make for a composite. These are all organic polymers, consisting of long molecule strings bound by carbon. These fibers can then be treated to create the final product. How is this done?

A number of gases and liquid are used to treat the raw fiber to create the final product, and this process has been enhanced and experimented on over the past few decades. Some of these gases and liquids interact with the fibers to alter them, and others are meant to prevent side effects that would ruin the final product. First, the precursor is drawn into long strands, then heated to a very high temperature without being exposed to oxygen (this prevents the fiber from burning). Instead, the intense heat will cause the non-carbon atoms to vibrate strongly and break free of the chain, leaving only the carbon atoms behind. This is the carbonization process, and it leaves few, if any, non-carbon molecules or atoms behind.

The raw fibers may often need to be stabilized before they are fully carbonized, and this means heating them to make their atom bonds more thermally stable. Hot air or rollers may be used in this process, and the fibers will pick up oxygen molecules in order to rearrange their atomic bonding pattern. Some gases may be mixed into this process to chemically accelerate that stabilization.

During the carbonization process, the fibers are heated to a much higher temperature, and the non-oxygen gases inside the furnace will be kept at a high pressure as the non-carbon atoms are expelled from the fibers. After that, the fibers’ surfaces are slightly oxidized so that they can bond more effectively with epoxies and other coating materials. Adding oxygen to the surface makes them rougher, and therefore more ideal for materials to bond to them in the final product. The fibers might be exposed to gas such as carbon dioxide in order to facilitate that oxidation of the fibers. Finally, other coating materials such as epoxies are applied to the fibers so that they remain strong and secure while they are being woven and braided into the final product. This makes for a tough but light final product that can be used in many different ways in various industries around the world.

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