You’ve definitely heard of carbon fiber, but what exactly is this, what makes it so special (and expensive), and how and where it can be used? You’re at the right place – read on to learn everything you need to know about this precious (and beautiful) material.

In this article, we’ll cover all the topis to help you better understand carbon fiber:

    1. What is carbon fiber?
    2. How is carbon fiber made?
    3. History of carbon fiber
    4. Why is carbon fiber such a unique material?
    5. Where and how is carbon fiber used?
    6. Advantages and disadvantages of carbon fiber
    7. Carbon fiber vs. other materials
    8. Is carbon fiber the future?
    9. Bonus: X interesting facts about carbon fiber you didn’t know

So let’s go and explore why carbon fiber is the ultimate form of carbon.

1. What is carbon fiber?

Carbon fiber (also known as graphite fiber) is a lightweight, high-strength material that is made from organic polymers, which consist of long strings of molecules held together by carbon atoms. The size of a carbon fiber is about 5 to 10 micrometers (0.00020-0.00039 in) in diameter.

OK, but what is carbon?

Carbon is a chemical element (in the periodic table of elements, you’ll find it at number 6, its symbol is C – no, this is not the same as Vitamin C). Carbon is the 15th most abundant element in Earth’s crust (it makes up about 0.025 % of it) and it is the 2nd most abundant element in the human body by mass (about 18.5%, right after oxygen). The atoms of carbon can bond together in different ways, resulting in different allotropes – the most well known are graphite, diamond, and coal.

We’ll skip the diamonds for today and focus on carbon fiber which is a fascinating and versatile material that has revolutionized many industries and continues to drive innovation and advancement in manufacturing and technology.

2. How is carbon fiber made?

To produce carbon fiber, the carbon atoms are bonded together in crystals which are (more or less) aligned parallel to the long axis of the fiber. Such alignment gives the fiber a high strength-to-volume ratio – meaning that the fiber is strong for its size, consequently we need less material to achieve the same strength (compared to a different material), so carbon fiber products are lighter which is one of its main advantages – read on to learn more about the advantages of carbon fiber.

Carbon fiber is made through a complex manufacturing process that involves several stages, including the spinning of precursor fibers, the stabilization of these fibers, and the carbonization of the fibers at high temperatures. The resulting material is a lightweight, high-strength composite that can be molded into a variety of shapes and used in a range of applications.

3. History of carbon fiber

Carbon is one of the few elements that have been known since antiquity, but the (hi)story of carbon fiber started much later.

The history of carbon fiber dates back to the mid-20th century, when researchers began exploring new ways to create high-strength materials that could replace traditional metals in a variety of applications.

Here’s a brief overview of some of the key milestones in the development of carbon fiber:

  • 1958: The first carbon fiber is created by Roger Bacon, a scientist who discovered that heating a precursor material made from rayon could produce a form of carbon fiber. Those 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.
  • 1963: A team of researchers at Union Carbide in the United States develop a new process for creating carbon fibers using a precursor material made from polyacrylonitrile (PAN), which would become the dominant precursor material for carbon fiber production.
  • 1968: The first carbon fiber composite material is used in an aerospace application, when NASA uses it to create a secondary structure for the Apollo spacecraft.
  • 1970s-1980s: Carbon fiber becomes increasingly popular in a variety of industries, including aerospace, automotive, and sports equipment. The material is used to create lightweight, high-strength components that can improve performance and reduce weight.
  • 1990s-present: Carbon fiber continues to be used in a growing number of applications, and the technology for producing carbon fiber has become increasingly advanced and efficient. Today, carbon fiber is used in a wide range of industries and products, from high-performance aircraft to bicycles, musical instruments, and even luxury goods, such as specialized urns for ashes.

Overall, the history of carbon fiber is one of constant innovation and development, as researchers and engineers have worked to refine the manufacturing process and explore new applications for this versatile material. Today, carbon fiber is widely recognized as one of the most important and transformative materials of the 20th century.

4. Why is carbon fiber such a unique material?

Carbon fiber is a unique material because of its combination of strength, stiffness, and low weight. Here are some of the key reasons why carbon fiber is so remarkable:

Strength:

Carbon fiber is incredibly strong, with a tensile strength that is many times greater than that of steel or aluminum. This means that carbon fiber components can withstand high levels of stress and strain without deforming or breaking.

Stiffness:

Carbon fiber is also very stiff, which means that it can resist bending and twisting forces. This is important in applications where rigidity and stability are critical, such as in the aerospace or automotive industries.

Lightweight:

Perhaps the most significant advantage of carbon fiber is its low weight. Carbon fiber is a polymer and is sometimes known as graphite fiber. It is a very strong material that is also very lightweight. Carbon fiber is five-times stronger than steel and twice as stiff. Though carbon fiber is stronger and stiffer than steel, it is lighter than steel; making it the ideal manufacturing material for many parts. These are just a few reasons why carbon fiber is favored by engineers and designers for manufacturing. This can improve performance and efficiency in a wide range of applications, from bicycles and sports equipment to airplanes and automobiles.

Versatility:

Carbon fiber is a highly versatile material that can be molded into a wide range of shapes and sizes. This allows for unique and edge-cutting solutions, such as ACM – Autoclave Composite Monocoque, a special innovative technological process, developed by CDT Group, for manufacturing complex hollow carbon fiber pieces without joints and adhesives in an autoclave. The versatility of carbon fiber makes it useful in a variety of applications, from small consumer goods to large industrial components.

Durability:

Finally, carbon fiber is highly durable and resistant to a range of environmental factors, such as temperature, moisture, and corrosion. This makes it an ideal material for use in demanding environments, such as in the aerospace or defense industries.

Overall, the unique combination of strength, stiffness, low weight, versatility, and durability make carbon fiber an incredibly useful material in a wide range of applications, and have helped to drive its growing popularity over the past several decades.

5. Where and how is carbon fiber used?

Carbon fiber is used in a wide range of industries and applications, thanks to its unique combination of strength, stiffness, and low weight. Here are some examples of how and where carbon fiber is used:

  • Aerospace: Carbon fiber is widely used in the aerospace industry to create lightweight, high-strength components for aircraft and spacecraft. Examples include structural components like wings, fuselages, and landing gear, as well as interior components like seats and overhead bins.
  • Automotive: Carbon fiber is also used in the automotive industry to create lightweight, high-performance components like body panels, frames, and suspension parts. Carbon fiber can help to improve fuel efficiency and reduce weight, which is especially important in high-performance vehicles.

  • Sports equipment: Carbon fiber is a popular material for high-end sports equipment like bicycles, tennis rackets, golf clubs, and skis. These products often use carbon fiber to create lightweight, high-strength components that can help to improve performance.
  • Industrial equipment: Carbon fiber is used in a variety of industrial applications, such as wind turbine blades, pressure vessels, and even oil and gas drilling equipment, as well as in robotics and CNC machines to reduce weight and speed up performance. The material’s strength and durability make it useful in demanding environments where other materials might not hold up.
  • Medical equipment: Carbon fiber is also used in a variety of medical applications, such as prosthetic limbs, surgical instruments, and even implantable devices like pacemakers. The material’s strength, low weight, and biocompatibility make it a useful material in these applications.

While carbon fiber is often associated with high-performance applications in industries like aerospace and automotive, it is also used in many everyday products. Here are some examples of how carbon fiber is used in everyday life:

  • Consumer products: Carbon fiber is used in a wide range of consumer products, such as smartphone cases, wallets, watches, and even furniture. These products often use carbon fiber to create a lightweight and durable design.
  • Sporting goods: Carbon fiber is a popular material in the production of many types of sporting goods, such as bicycles, golf clubs, fishing rods, and helmets. These products often use carbon fiber to create a lightweight design that can help improve performance.

  • Musical instruments: Carbon fiber is also used in the construction of musical instruments, such as guitars, violins, and cellos. The material’s stiffness and strength can help create a more resonant and consistent sound.
  • Luggage: Carbon fiber is used in the production of high-end luggage, such as suitcases and briefcases. The material’s durability and lightweight design make it a popular choice for travelers who want to protect their belongings without carrying a heavy load.
  • Home goods: Carbon fiber is even used in some home goods, such as lamps, wall art, and decorative objects. These products often use carbon fiber to create a unique and modern design, one such example is Carbon Urns – a premium fully customizable urn where innovative carbon fiber technology meets advanced design.

Overall, carbon fiber is a highly versatile material that can be used in a wide range of applications. Its unique properties make it especially useful in industries where high strength, stiffness, and low weight are important considerations. As the technology for producing carbon fiber continues to improve, it’s likely that we’ll see even more innovative and exciting applications of this remarkable material in the future.

6. Advantages and disadvantages of carbon fiber

Carbon fiber has many advantages and disadvantages, depending on the specific application and use case. Here are some of the most common advantages and disadvantages of carbon fiber:

Advantages:

  • High strength-to-weight ratio: Carbon fiber is incredibly strong and stiff for its weight, making it ideal for applications where high strength and low weight are important.
  • High stiffness: Carbon fiber is also very stiff, meaning that it resists bending and flexing even under high loads.
  • Corrosion-resistant: Carbon fiber is resistant to corrosion and doesn’t rust, making it ideal for applications in harsh environments.
  • High fatigue resistance: Carbon fiber can withstand repeated stress and strain cycles without degrading, making it ideal for applications where durability and longevity are important.
  • Customizability: Carbon fiber can be tailored to specific applications and requirements, with the ability to control the weave pattern, fiber orientation, and resin matrix.

 

Disadvantages:

  • High cost: Carbon fiber is generally more expensive than other materials like steel or aluminum, making it less feasible for some applications.
  • Brittle: Carbon fiber can be brittle and prone to cracking under high stress, especially if it is damaged or impacted.
  • Difficult to repair: Carbon fiber can be difficult to repair if it is damaged, requiring specialized skills and equipment to fix.
  • Limited heat tolerance: Carbon fiber has a limited tolerance for heat, and can become weakened or deformed if exposed to high temperatures.
  • Low impact resistance: Carbon fiber is not as impact-resistant as some other materials, and can be damaged if subjected to impact or abrasion, but this can be solved easily by using other composite materials with it to enhance its resistance.

Overall, carbon fiber’s unique combination of properties make it an attractive material for many applications, but its high cost and brittleness can limit its practicality in certain situations.

7. Carbon fiber vs. other materials

Carbon fiber has many advantages and disadvantages compared to other materials, depending on the specific application and use case. Here are some of the most common comparisons between carbon fiber and other materials:

Carbon fiber vs. steel:

  • Strength-to-weight ratio: Carbon fiber is five-times stronger than steel and twice as stiff, making it ideal for applications where weight is a concern.
  • Corrosion resistance: Carbon fiber is corrosion-resistant, while steel is prone to rust and corrosion.
  • Cost: Carbon fiber is more expensive than steel, making it less practical for some applications.

Carbon fiber vs. aluminum:

  • Strength-to-weight ratio: Carbon fiber is stronger and lighter than aluminum, making it ideal for applications where weight is a concern.
  • Corrosion resistance: Carbon fiber is corrosion-resistant, while aluminum can corrode if not protected.
  • Cost: Carbon fiber is more expensive than aluminum, making it less practical for some applications.

Carbon fiber vs. plastic:

  • Strength: Carbon fiber is stronger than most plastics, but can be more brittle and prone to cracking.
  • Cost: Carbon fiber is more expensive than most plastics, but can offer improved performance in some applications.
  • Customizability: Carbon fiber can be tailored to specific applications and requirements, while plastic may have more limited options for customization.

Overall, carbon fiber’s unique combination of properties make it a desirable material for many applications, but its high cost can limit its practicality in certain situations. When compared to other materials like steel, aluminum, and plastic, carbon fiber typically offers improved strength-to-weight ratio and corrosion resistance, but at a higher cost.

8. Is carbon fiber the future?

Carbon fiber is a promising material with many unique properties that make it attractive for a wide range of applications, and it is likely to continue to play an important role in many industries in the future.

In particular, as the demand for lightweight, high-performance materials continues to grow, carbon fiber is well-positioned to meet this need. Its combination of strength and low weight makes it ideal for use in aerospace, automotive, and sporting goods applications, among others.

However, carbon fiber also has some limitations, including its high cost and challenges related to recycling and disposal. As a result, it may not be the best choice for every application, and alternative materials or manufacturing processes may be more appropriate in some cases. On the other hand, it is highly durable, it basically lasts forever – which can make it a perfect material for, for instance, an urn for ashes, where carbon fiber can represent eternity.

Additionally, the sustainability of carbon fiber production and use is an important consideration, and there are ongoing efforts to develop more sustainable alternatives and to improve the environmental impact of carbon fiber production.

Overall, while carbon fiber is likely to continue to be an important material in the future, it will need to be used and developed in a way that takes into account its strengths and weaknesses, as well as its impact on the environment and society.

9. Bonus: 6 interesting facts about carbon fiber you didn’t know

Here are six interesting facts about carbon fiber to illustrate how versatile and interesting material it is:

  1. Carbon fiber was used to create a record-breaking, human-powered airplane called the Gossamer Albatross. In 1979, this airplane flew across the English Channel, powered entirely by a pedal-driven propeller.
  2. Carbon fiber has been used in the construction of several iconic buildings, including the Burj Khalifa in Dubai and the One World Trade Center in New York City. These buildings incorporate carbon fiber as part of their structural reinforcement.
  3. Carbon fiber is often used in the world of motorsports to create lightweight and high-performance parts. In fact, the first Formula One car to make use of carbon fiber construction was the McLaren MP4/1, which debuted in 1981 and revolutionized the sport.
  4. Carbon fiber was used to create the world’s first carbon fiber instrument – a cello. The instrument has a unique sound that some musicians say is more resonant than traditional wood cellos.
  5. Carbon fiber is being used to create stronger and lighter weight prosthetic limbs, allowing amputees to move more easily and with less fatigue.
  6. One example of an extremely expensive product made from carbon fiber is the Bugatti Chiron Super Sport 300+ car. This limited-edition supercar has a body made almost entirely out of carbon fiber, which makes it lighter and more aerodynamic, allowing it to reach top speeds of over 300 miles per hour. The starting price for the Bugatti Chiron Super Sport 300+ is around $5.2 million USD, making it one of the most expensive cars ever produced.