Mankind has always sought new materials for building everything from structures to vehicles to tools and weapons. Today, classic materials such as brick, wood, and glass are still commonly used, but other lightweight structures have been developed in recent years for all kinds of applications. What are these lightweight structures? Carbon fiber design in today’s research labs and carbon fiber prototypes have shown that lightweight structures such as carbon fiber can be the future of construction. A lot of work and research is put into making these lightweight structures; after all, faulty materials would crumple and collapse if used for an application incorrectly, so lightweight structures like carbon fiber product or products should have some research backing them up. What are some of the statistics of these lightweight structures? Are carbon fibers tough and strong enough to be useful today?
The Nature of Carbon Fiber
Understanding these lightweight structures means knowing their properties first. They are lighter and stronger than analogous materials such as steel, since carbon fiber composites offer about 10 times the strength of steel while weighing only half as much. Around 90% of carbon fiber is created with polyacrylonitrile, or PAN, and PAN-based carbon fibers can be capable of strengths up to 1,000 ksi, and high stiffness as well. And according to Innovative Composite, carbon fiber has some other properties that make it attractive as well. These may include not only the aforementioned stiffness, but also a high resistance to chemicals, making them useful in contexts where powerful chemicals might degrade or corrode other materials. On top of that, carbon fiber structures are also highly resistant to extreme heat, which can make them useful nearly anywhere. For example, the wires in heated environments such as train or jet engines are exposed to dangerous levels of heat and hot air, so carbon fiber hoses and cables sheath and protect those wires. Such woven cables should be regularly inspected for any fraying, holes, or other issues.
History and Manufacture
Where did carbon fiber technology? They got their earliest start with the work of American inventor Thomas Edison, who in 1879 opted to bake cotton threads or bamboo slivers at high temperatures. This carbonized the materials into an all-carbon fiber filament. Later, by the 1950s, high-performance carbon fibers had been developed in the United States. These carbon fibers did not have modern standards of efficiency, they did have fibers that contained 20% carbon and and generally low strength and stiffness properties. But by 1963, a British research center developed a new manufacturing process that fully realized carbon fibers’ potential.
Today’s process for creating carbon fibers is both chemical and mechanical. Long strands of fibers are drawn and then heated to a very high temperature while not allowing any oxygen to reach the fibers. This prevents them from actually burning. Carbonation takes place, and the atoms of the fibers will vibrate strongly and expel most non-carbon atoms in the fiber. The end result is a strand of tightly woven and interlocked carbon formations with very few non-carbon atoms left in the material. Carbon fiber are further formed when spinning, stabilizing, and treating the surface and sizing are done.
Carbon fiber materials are a composite, and they factor into the larger composite materials market, which is a large and popular one. In fact, Lucintel has reported that the composite materials market, which includes carbon fibers, is expected to reach a value of nearly $38 billion by the year 2023. It is clear that carbon fiber research and production will be funded and continue well into the future. This material may find applications in all sorts of fields thanks to its many beneficial properties. How might carbon fiber materials be used? Protective clothing is often made from carbon fiber weave, with such items being flexible and tough enough to serve a wearer well. Jackets, pants, boots, gloves, and helmets can all be made from this material, for example, such as for the workplace. After all, carbon fibers can resist heat, blunt trauma, and chemicals, which may give them many different industrial applications at some work sites.