Physical Properties & Advantages of Carbon Fiber
Carbon fiber is made from organic polymers, which consist of long strings of molecules held together by carbon atoms. Most carbon fibers (about 90%) are made from the polyacrylonitrile (PAN) process. A small amount (about 10%) are manufactured from rayon or the petroleum pitch process.
Gases, liquids, and other materials used in the manufacturing process create specific effects, qualities, and grades of carbon fiber. Carbon fiber manufacturers use proprietary formulas and combinations of raw materials for the materials they produce and usually they treat these specific formulations as trade secrets.
The highest-grade carbon fiber materials with the most efficient modulus properties are used in demanding applications, such as aerospace.
Creating carbon fiber involves both chemical and mechanical processes. Raw materials, known as precursors, are drawn into long strands and then heated to high temperatures in an anaerobic (oxygen free) environment. Rather than burning, the extreme heat causes the fiber atoms to vibrate so violently that almost all non-carbon atoms are expelled.
After the carbonization process is complete, the remaining fiber is made up of long, tightly interlocked carbon atom chains with few or no non-carbon atoms remaining. These fibers are subsequently woven into fabric or combined with other materials that are then filament wound or molded into the desired shapes and sizes.
What Industries Use Carbon Fiber?
Benefits of Carbon Fiber in Aerospace
Lightweight — Perhaps one of the greatest advantages of carbon fiber for aerospace applications is how lightweight it is. Weight in aerospace is important because it plays a major role in fuel consumption. The lighter a plane, helicopter, or space shuttle is, the less fuel that is needed to get it into the air. Additionally, lighter planes can travel farther on less fuel, meaning fewer or no refueling stops. Fuel consumption is an extremely important factor in costs as well as environmental consciousness.
Durable — The strength-to-weight ratio of carbon fiber is astounding. It has a high tensile strength, meaning it's incredibly resistant to breakage under tension. In aerospace, carbon fiber components can help improve accident survivability.
Corrosion Resistant — When certain metals come into contact, they can corrode each other. Carbon fiber doesn't cause corrosion in contact with metals or itself. This means that using carbon fiber in aerospace can improve the longevity of metal parts.
Chemical Resistant — Carbon fiber is fairly resistant to chemical exposure as well. It won't weaken, corrode, or fall apart like other materials when exposed to strong chemicals.
Temperature Resistant — Most metals expand and contract based on the temperature of the environment they're in. In aerospace, metal parts are subject to extremely drastic temperature changes within a few minutes during take-off and landing. Composites such as carbon fiber don't expand and contract as dramatically when subject to rapid temperature changes, making them more durable than metals.
Carbon Fiber in the Automotive Industry
Racecars and Sports Cars — Since sports cars are intended to be speedy, carbon fiber is the perfect material for decreasing the overall weight of a vehicle without compromising safety. BMW, Chevrolet Corvette, and Alfa Romeo have all included carbon fiber pieces in the bodies of their high-end cars for improved speed and energy efficiency. Carbon fiber body components are more than speed enhancers. Lighter weight chassis are ideal for electric cars as well. With lower overall vehicle weight, a smaller battery can be used to achieve the same or even higher levels of performance as less energy is needed to make the car go.
Wheels and Rims — Carbon fiber-based wheels and rims have become one of the most popular applications of the material for the automotive industry, available as add-ons or aftermarket parts. The design and build of carbon fiber wheels reduce noise and vibration while providing the same lightweight-but-strong benefits of using carbon fiber in the chassis of a car. Carbon fiber does a better job than steel and aluminum to dampen high-frequency noise, vibration, and harshness from the road, leading to quieter vehicle cabins.
High-end Interiors — Rims are a combination of form and function, but sometimes you just want a sleek, high-end look. Carbon fiber is still your go-to. Interior elements commonly made of polymers or aluminum are being replaced with carbon fiber elements instead for an extra level of detail. Because of its durability, carbon fiber makes a great interior material, too.
Carbon Fiber Sporting Goods and Equipment
Tennis — In tennis, carbon fiber has been used to make uniquely shaped and lighter rackets. This allows players to hit the ball faster. Plus, they have a better grip of their rackets giving them much better control than say a steel or aluminum racket. These same parameters apply in other racket games like squash, badminton, and racquetball games.
Cycling — In a cycling race, time is everything. You are forced to push your limits. As you can imagine, it's hard enough carrying your own weight on a bike. It's even harder additionally pushing the weight of your heavy steel bike all while trying to negotiate sharp bends and steep inclines during a race. This explains why cyclists now opt for an all-carbon fiber bike instead of one made of aluminum alloy for example. A bike made of carbon fiber is so light and tough. As a result, it can withstand high impact and get you to the finish line faster.
Golf — It is often said that golf is a game for the elite. As such, it's safe to say that players here spare no chance for mistakes on golf club design and material. There's space, only for the best. Some time back, golf clubs were made of wood, aluminum alloy, steel, fiberglass among other types of materials. Today, golf clubs are designed to have different adjustable components. For example, you can have a golf club made of a carbon fiber handle and a wooden bottom or vice versa. These new-age clubs hit much faster and allow for a more precise swing. It is lighter giving you better control and stiff enough to withstand even the hardest golf ball hits without leaving dents or cracks.
Skis and Snowboards — Warm-season games may have dominated in the carbon fiber equipment bandwagon. However, cold season sports haven't been left behind either. With carbon fiber ski boards and snowboards, you are set to see immense growth in this sport. More people are now inclined to ski not just as a hobby but also want to show off their prowess in competitions.
Water Sports — Be it Water polo, rowing, canoe-kayaking, or water skiing, they all use carbon fiber composites. It starts from the helmets the participants use to the rowing or water skiing equipment down to the canoe itself. There's not a sport you can think of where carbon fiber has been utilized more. Owing to its unique features like increased levels of tensile strength, chemical resistance, and temperature tolerance, carbon fiber components fit right in when it comes to water sports. Here, carbon fiber can withstand high impact, and the equipment doesn't erode.
Carbon fiber uses are expanding every day. New technologies and applications are pushing carbon fiber to the forefront of virtually every industry. Its versatility, physical properties, and aesthetics make it a preferred choice for anyone seeking high-performance material that is exceptionally attractive.