Carbon Fiber

Background
A carbon fiber is a long, thin strand of material about 0.0002-0.0004 in (0.005-0.010 mm) in diameter and composed mostly of carbon atoms. The carbon atoms are bonded together in microscopic crystals that are more or less aligned parallel to the long axis of the fiber. The crystal alignment makes the fiber incredibly strong for its size. Several thousand carbon fibers are twisted together to form a yarn, which may be used by itself or woven into a fabric. The yarn or fabric is combined with epoxy and wound or molded into shape to form various composite materials. Carbon fiber-reinforced composite materials are used to make aircraft and spacecraft parts, racing car bodies, golf club shafts, bicycle frames, fishing rods, automobile springs, sailboat masts, and many other components where light weight and high strength are needed. Carbon fibers were developed in the 1950s as a reinforcement for high-temperature molded plastic components on missiles. The first fibers were manufactured by heating strands of rayon until they carbonized. This process proved to be inefficient, as the resulting fibers contained only about 20% carbon and had low strength and stiffness properties. In the early 1960s, a process was developed using polyacrylonitrile as a raw material. This produced a carbon fiber that contained about 55% carbon and had much better properties. The polyacrylonitrile conversion process quickly became the primary method for producing carbon fibers. During the 1970s, experimental work to find alternative raw materials led to the introduction of carbon fibers made from a petroleum pitch derived from oil processing. These fibers contained about 85% carbon and had excellent flexural strength. Unfortunately, they had only limited compression strength and were not widely accepted.

.5145.0 million psi (500 million-1. These fibers have an internal structure that closely approximates the threedimensional crystal alignment that is characteristic of a pure form of carbon known as graphite.Today.8 million psi (240 million kPa)." and "ultrahigh modulus. and Western Europe are the leading producers of carbon fibers.0 billion kPa). Japan. Thus. Carbon fibers classified as "low modulus" have a tensile modulus below 34." Ultrahigh modulus carbon fibers have a tensile modulus of 72. The English unit of measurement is pounds of force per square inch of cross-sectional area. the strongest carbon fiber is about five times stronger than steel. include "standard modulus. As a comparison. Classification of Carbon Fibers Carbon fibers are classified by the tensile modulus of the fiber. The term graphite fiber refers to certain ultrahigh modulus fibers made from petroleum pitch. carbon fibers are an important part of many products. Other classifications. or psi. The United States. in ascending order of tensile modulus. and new applications are being developed every year." "high modulus." "intermediate modulus. steel has a tensile modulus of about 29 million psi (200 million kPa). Tensile modulus is a measure of how much pulling force a certain diameter fiber can exert without breaking.

Some of these materials are designed to react with the fiber to achieve a specific effect. The exact composition of each precursor varies from one company to another and is generally considered a trade secret. About 90% of the carbon fibers produced are made from polyacrylonitrile. The remaining 10% are made from rayon or petroleum pitch. the high temperature causes the atoms in the fiber to vibrate violently until most of the non-carbon atoms are expelled. characterized by long strings of molecules bound together by carbon atoms. All of these materials are organic polymers. As with the . Raw Materials The raw material used to make carbon fiber is called the precursor. During the manufacturing process. the fiber cannot burn. Other materials are designed not to react or to prevent certain reactions with the fiber. a variety of gases and liquids are used. Instead.Plastics are drown into long strands or fibers and then heated to a very high temperature without allowing it to come in contact with oxygen. Without oxygen.

the exact compositions of many of these process materials are considered trade secrets. the fiber cannot burn. .precursors. the high temperature causes the atoms in the fiber to vibrate violently until most of the non-carbon atoms are expelled. The precursor is drawn into long strands or fibers and then heated to a very high temperature with-out allowing it to come in contact with oxygen. The coated fibers are wound onto cylinders called bobbins. inter-locked chains of carbon atoms with only a few non-carbon atoms remaining. Without oxygen. The Manufacturing Process The process for making carbon fibers is part chemical and part mechanical. Instead. This process is called carbonization and leaves a fiber composed of long. tightly The fibers are coated to protect them from damage during winding or weaving.

This causes the fibers to pick up oxygen molecules from the air and rearrange their atomic bonding pattern. In some methods.  2 The plastic is then spun into fibers using one of several different methods. the fibers pass over hot rollers and through beds of loose . the plastic is mixed with certain chemicals and pumped through tiny jets into a chemical bath or quench chamber where the plastic coagulates and solidifies into fibers. This is similar to the process used to form polyacrylic textile fibers. In some processes.  3 The fibers are then washed and stretched to the desired fiber diameter. They also generate their own heat. leaving a solid fiber. The stretching helps align the molecules within the fiber and provides the basis for the formation of the tightly bonded carbon crystals after carbonization. The spinning step is important because the internal atomic structure of the fiber is formed during this process. The stabilizing chemical reactions are complex and involve several steps. Spinning  1 Acrylonitrile plastic powder is mixed with another plastic. This is accomplished by heating the fibers in air to about 390-590° F (200-300° C) for 30-120 minutes. In others. they need to be chemically altered to convert their linear atomic bonding to a more thermally stable ladder bonding. some of which occur simultaneously.Here is a typical sequence of operations used to form carbon fibers from polyacrylonitrile. the fibers are drawn through a series of heated chambers. Commercially. the plastic mixture is heated and pumped through tiny jets into a chamber where the solvents evaporate. In other methods. the stabilization process uses a variety of equipment and techniques. which must be controlled to avoid overheating the fibers. like methyl acrylate or methyl methacrylate. Stabilizing  4 Before the fibers are carbonized. and is reacted with a catalyst in a conventional suspension or solution polymerization process to form a polyacrylonitrile plastic.

the remaining carbon atoms form tightly bonded carbon crystals that are aligned more or less parallel to the long axis of the fiber. or ozone. nitrogen. Sizing . two furnaces operating at two different temperatures are used to better control the rate de heating during carbonization. their surface is slightly oxidized. they are heated to a temperature of about 1. ammonia. To give the fibers better bonding properties. the fibers have a surface that does not bond well with the epoxies and other materials used in composite materials.500° F (1.000° C) for several minutes in a furnace filled with a gas mixture that does not contain oxygen. As the fibers are heated. which could cause fiber failure. carbon dioxide. they begin to lose their non-carbon atoms. The gas pressure inside the furnace is kept higher than the outside air pressure and the points where the fibers enter and exit the furnace are sealed to keep oxygen from entering. Some processes use heated air mixed with certain gases that chemically accelerate the stabilization. or in various liquids such as sodium hypochlorite or nitric acid. such as pits.8305. in the form of various gases including water vapor. plus a few carbon atoms. Carbonizing  5 Once the fibers are stabilized.000-3. and others. The addition of oxygen atoms to the surface provides better chemical bonding properties and also etches and roughens the surface for better mechanical bonding properties. carbon dioxide. The surface treatment process must be carefully controlled to avoid forming tiny surface defects. Oxidation can be achieved by immersing the fibers in various gases such as air. The lack of oxygen prevents the fibers from burning in the very high temperatures. Treating the surface  6 After carbonizing. The fibers can also be coated electrolytically by making the fibers the positive terminal in a bath filled with various electrically conductive materials. hydrogen. In some processes. As the non-carbon atoms are expelled. carbon monoxide.materials held in suspension by a flow of hot air.

producing consistent precursor fibers and closely controlling the manufacturing process used to turn them into carbon fibers controls the quality. carbon fibers are too large to be a health hazard when inhaled. gas flow. The bobbins are loaded into a spinning machine and the fibers are twisted into yarns of various sizes. pieces of carbon fibers can break off and circulate in the air in the form of a fine dust. amount of sizing. Coating materials are chosen to be compatible with the adhesive used to form composite materials. During processing. the Suppliers of Advanced Composite Materials Association established standards for carbon fiber testing methods. and others. which are now used throughout the industry. strength. This process is called sizing. In 1990. and people working in the area should wear protective masks. Instead. Process variables such as time. and others. Common fiber tests include density. skin irritation. unlike some asbestos fibers. temperature. polyester. The carbon fibers can also cause skin irritation. Industrial health studies have shown that. 7 After the surface treatment. The carbon fibers. Typical coating materials include epoxy. Protective clothing or the use of barrier skin creams is recommended for people . They can be an irritant. nylon. as well as the finished composite materials.  8 The coated fibers are wound onto cylinders called bobbins. and chemical composition are closely monitored during each stage of the production. however. the fibers are coated to protect them from damage during winding or weaving. Health and Safety Concerns There are three areas of concern in the production and handling of carbon fibers: dust inhalation. Quality Control The very small size of carbon fibers does not allow visual inspection as a quality control method. and the effect of fibers on electrical equipment. especially on the back of hands and wrists. are also subject to rigorous testing. urethane.

submicroscopic test tubes. Materials Handbook. Inc. McGraw-Hill. 1993. Periodicals Ebbesen. carbon fiber dust can cause arcing and shorts in electrical equipment. have unique mechanical and electrical properties that may be useful in making new high-strength fibers. As a result. These hollow tubes. Clauser. 1997. T. which also requires protection. Kroschwitz. George S." Physics Today (June 1996): 26-32. ed. some as small as 0. Henry R. or possibly new semiconductor materials for integrated circuits.. Vaccari.W. In addition to being strong.psu.001 mm) in diameter.00004 in (0. "Carbon Nanotubes. and John A. John Wiley and Sons. the equipment is sealed in a cabinet or other enclosure. The sizing materials used to coat the fibers often contain chemicals that can cause severe skin reactions. Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology. If electrical equipment cannot be relocated from the area where carbon dust is present. . Jacqueline I. http://www. and Mary Howe-Grant. Other American Carbon Society website. The Future The latest development in carbon fiber technology is tiny carbon tubes called nanotubes. carbon fibers are also good conductors of electricity.edulcarbon ..in an area where carbon fiber dust is present. Where to Learn More Books Brady.ems.

components. making. Classification of Carbon Fibers.carb.com . structure.Carbon Composites website. — Chris Cavette Read more: How carbon fiber is made .com/Volume-4/CarbonFiber.html#ixzz0jENWQZfB . industry. http://www. steps.material. machine. composition.madehow. parts. Raw Materials http://www. used. processing.

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