Nine Things You Didn’t Know About Carbon Fiber

Note: This article is part of the Energy.gov series highlighting the “Top Things You Didn’t Know About…” 

9. Carbon fiber – sometimes known as graphite fiber — is a strong, stiff, lightweight material that has the potential to replace steel and is popularly used in specialized, high-performance products like aircrafts, racecars and sporting equipment.

8. Carbon fiber was first invented near Cleveland, Ohio, in 1958. It wasn’t until a newmanufacturing process was developed at a British research center in 1963 that carbon fiber’s strength potential was realized.

Pictured here is the first stage in the carbon fiber production process, where spooled precursor material is fed into the conversion line. Precursor material may be spun into rolls or blown into a mat form before being conveyed through the stabilization, carbonization, and surface treatment steps of the process. (image via Oak Ridge National Laboratory)

Pictured here is the first stage in the carbon fiber production process, where spooled precursor material is fed into the conversion line. Precursor material may be spun into rolls or blown into a mat form before being conveyed through the stabilization, carbonization, and surface treatment steps of the process. (image via Oak Ridge National Laboratory)

7. Current methods for manufacturing carbon fiber tend to be slow and energy intensive, making it costly for use in mass-produced applications. With a goal of reducing carbon fiber production costs by 50 percent, the Energy Department’s new Carbon Fiber Technology Facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory is working with manufacturers and researchers to develop better and cheaper processes for producing carbon fibers. Lowering the cost of carbon fibers make it a viable solution for vehicles and a wide variety of clean energy applications.

6. The 42,000-square foot facility features a 390-foot-long processing line that is capable of producing up to 25 tons of carbon fiber a year — that is enough carbon fiber to cover the length of almost 138,889 football fields.

5. The most common carbon fiber precursor — the raw material used to make carbon fibers — is polyacrylonitrile (or PAN), accounting for more than 90 percent of all carbon fiber production. Other precursors options include a common plastic and a wood byproduct.

4. As part of conventional carbon fiber production, precursors go through several processes that include stretching, oxidation (to raise the melting temperature) and carbonization in high-temperature furnaces that vaporize about 50 percent of the material, making it nearly 100 percent carbon.

3. Carbon fiber can be woven into a fabric that is suitable for use in defense applications or added to a resin and molded into preformed pieces, such as vehicle components or wind turbine blades.

2. The next generation of carbon-fiber composites could reduce passenger car weight by 50 percent and improve fuel efficiency by about 35 percent without compromising performance or safety — an advancement that would save more than $5,000 in fuel over the life of the car at today’s gasoline prices.

1. In addition to its uses in manufacturing of cars and trucks, advances in carbon fiber will help American manufacturers lower the cost and improve the performance of wind turbine blades and towers, electronics, energy storage components and power transmission lines.

doe-energyEditor’s Note: EarthTechling is proud to repost this article courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy. Author credit goes to Rebecca Matulka.

The mission of the Energy Department is to ensure America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions

  • RobKrebs

    Thanks for reposting this great info from Rebecca Matulka! It’s great that the DOE is working to educate the public about carbon fiber, this is the material of the future. As Matulka states, the material can reduce vehicle weight & boost efficiency without sacrificing performance or car safety, saving consumers money on fuel and helping automakers adhere to CAFE regulations set for 2025. Though CFRPs are currently made from large sections of woven carbon fabric, imagine the weight and ‘carbon’ cost-reductions when manufacturers use only “shards” (particulate, threads, filaments) of carbon mixed in an injection-molded plastic matrix. New developments like the ability to “process model” long GLASS fiber in plastic injection molding are the precursor to similar processes now being researched by the DOE for carbon fiber “fragments” injection molded plastics. Think of it this way: You can deliver strength similar to carbon fabrics but using much less carbon (read: less cost)! Add the fast cycle times of injection molding, and a strong lightweight steering tie-rod could be made as quickly as a milk jug. When the strength of carbon meets the speed of injection molding, the landscape for lightweighting autos with plastics will grow dramatically.

    For more on carbon fiber car parts, visit: http://www.facebook.com/plasticcar and
    http://www.plastics-car.com/Resources/Resource-Library/Long-Glass-Fiber-Molding.html

    Rob Krebs, Market Innovations, American Chemistry Council

  • Saucy_Biscuits

    a good article to read on carbon fiber is from the Breakthrough Institute. Another way our government shows the private sector how to create an industry:

    http://thebreakthrough.org/index.php/programs/energy-and-climate/carbon-fiber-another-successful-government-innovation/