Carbon Fibre – strong, stiff, & light weight fibres
Properties, process, history, and application of carbon fibres
Carbon fibres are extremely strong, thin fibre, made of aligned carbon crystals with the shape of a honeycomb and consisting of long, chainlike molecules of pure carbon that are made by charring synthetic fibres such as rayon in the absence of oxygen.
Applications of Carbon Fiber Overview
Reference – Todd Johnson, Updated March 30, 2017
Every day, a new application is found for carbon fibre. What started out forty years ago as a highly exotic material is now a part of our everyday lives. These thin filaments, a tenth of the thickness of a human hair, are now available in a wide range of useful forms. The fibres are bundled, woven and shaped into tubes and sheets (up to ½” thick) for construction purposes, supplied as cloth for moulding, or just regular thread for filament winding.
Carbon Fiber in Flight
Carbon fibre has gone to the moon on spacecraft, but it is also used widely in aircraft components and structures, where its superior strength to weight ratio far exceeds that of any metal. 30% of all carbon fibre is used in the aerospace industry. From helicopters to gliders, fighter jets to microlights, carbon fibre is playing its part, increasing range and simplifying maintenance.
Its application in sports goods ranges from the stiffening of running shoes to ice hockey stick, tennis racquets, and golf clubs. ‘Shells’ (hulls for rowing) are built from it, and many lives have been saved on motor racing circuits by its strength and damage tolerance in body structures. It is used in crash helmets too, for rock climbers, horse riders, and motorcyclists – in fact in any sport where there is a danger of head injury.
The applications in the military are very wide ranging – from planes and missiles to protective helmets, providing strengthening and weight reduction across all military equipment.
It takes energy to move weight – whether it is a soldier’s personal gear or a field hospital, and weight saved means more weight moved per gallon of gas.
A new military application is announced almost every day. Perhaps the latest and most exotic military application is for small flapping wings on miniaturized flying drones, used for surveillance missions.
Carbon Fiber at Home
Areas as broad as your imagination, whether it is style or practical application. For those who are style-conscious, it is often tagged as ‘the new black’. If you want a shiny black bathtub built from carbon fibre or a coffee table then you can have just that, off the shelf. iPhone cases, pens, and even bow ties – the look of carbon fibre is unique and sexy.
Carbon fibre offers several advantages over other materials in the medical field, including the fact that it is ‘radiolucent’ shows as black on X-ray images. It is used widely in imaging equipment structures to support limbs being X-rayed or treated with radiation.
The use of carbon fibre to strengthen damaged cruciate ligaments in the knee is being researched, but probably the most well-known medical use is that of prosthetics – artificial limbs. South African athlete Oscar Pistorius brought carbon fibre limbs to prominence when the International Association of Athletics Federations failed to ban him from competing in the Beijing Olympics.
His controversial carbon fibre right leg was said to give him an unfair advantage, and there is still considerable debate about this.
As costs come down, carbon fibre is being more widely adopted in automobiles. Supercar bodies are built now, but its wider use is likely to be on internal components such as instrument housings and seat frames.
As a chemical purifier, carbon is a powerful absorbent. When it comes to absorption of noxious or unpleasant chemicals, then the surface area is important. For a given weight of carbon, thin filaments have far more surface area than granules. Although we see activated carbon granules used as pet litter and for water purification, the potential for wider environmental use is clear.