Carbon fiber is so ubiquitous these days that people interact with it and don’t even know it. From carbon fiber bikes to the aircraft that take us from point A to point B, carbon fiber is all around us. And it’s only going to get more prolific. Carbon fiber and many of its composite cousins are gradually replacing older materials like steel and aluminum.
At Rock West Composites in Salt Lake City, Utah, they are on the cutting edge of all things carbon fiber. They say that what engineers have coming down the pike will revolutionize everything from road construction to automotive manufacturing. As the price of carbon fiber comes down, it is gradually becoming a more attractive manufacturing material.
How much do you know about carbon fiber? Below are five of the most prevalent carbon fiber myths. If you have been fooled by them, no worries. We won’t tell.
1. Carbon Fiber is a Plastic
This is perhaps the most prevalent carbon fiber myth. What makes it so easy to believe is that it is half true. But in the end, every half-truth really isn’t truth at all. Such is the case here.
In reality, carbon fiber is a very small fiber created by applying heat and pressure to carbon molecules in order to force them to arrange themselves in a straight line. Virgin carbon fiber can be wound into a thread and then either spun and braided or woven into a fabric. The finished material is combined with epoxy resin to create what are called carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRPs).
2. CFRPs Are Uniformly Stiff
The next myth says that the CFRPs are uniformly stiff. Not true. The stiffness of a finished composite can be controlled by manipulating the orientation of the fibers. Arrange them in just one direction and you’ll get a certain amount of stiffness. You can increase stiffness by arranging them in perpendicular positions.
3. All Carbon Fiber is Dry
Next up, a lot of people assume that all carbon fiber thread and fabric come dry from the manufacturer. That is the case quite often, but not always. Fabricators can buy wet fabrics known as prepregs. These are carbon fiber fabrics already impregnated with epoxy resin. They are preferred on jobs where resin uniformity is critical.
4. Carbon Fiber Is a New Invention
Of all the carbon fiber myths out there, the one that is most surprising when finally busted is the myth that says carbon fiber is a new invention. It is not. The first carbon fiber product was created back in the mid-19th century when Joseph Swan invented the carbon light bulb filament.
Admittedly, Swan’s carbon fiber wasn’t all that strong. It took another 100 years for engineers to develop a process for creating high performance carbon fiber threads and fabrics.
5. Carbon Fiber is Cheap
Finally, we have a tendency to equate carbon fiber reinforced plastics with other, cheaper plastics. This leads people to believe that carbon fiber products are cheap to make. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Creating virgin carbon fiber thread is extremely costly due to the amount of energy required. Once you have the thread, you can weave fabrics with it fairly inexpensively. But transforming those fabrics into CFRPs is quite costly.
There is a lot to know about carbon fiber and CFRPs. But like most other science-based topics, there is also a lot of misinformation floating around out in cyberspace. If the five myths represented here have started the wheels in your brain turning, have fun learning more. Just be careful of your sources.