What is Carbon Fiber?


Carbon fiber is a noun. A very strong, lightweight synthetic noun. Simply stated, it’s a bunch of incredibly thin fibers composed of carbon atoms. How thin? Thinner than human hair. Think about that for a sec.

It’s been around since the late 1950s or early 60s – depending on which form you’re talking about. And it’s been a pain in the butt ever since.

Without getting too technical, the first high-performance carbon fibers had low strength and stiffness properties. Translation: they weren’t up to spec for pretty much anything. Technological breakthroughs in the decades to come yielded vastly superior raw materials to work with. But we’re talking about petroleum pitch, resin impregnation, parallel microscopic crystal bonding, oil refining and a bunch of other processing techniques that even our Mad Scientists have a hard time pronouncing.

Real nasty, messy, extremely difficult stuff.

But here’s the intriguing thing: carbon fiber has an extremely high strength-to-weight ratio. Translation: it’s badass. How badass? Its tensile strength is almost THREE TIMES that of steel.

Real strong, tough, extremely hardcore stuff.

Carbon fiber has a serious fan base, particularly concerning those folks in charge of defending our country and sending metal buckets into space. Because they continue to suck up most of the world’s carbon fiber production, there isn’t much leftover for the rest of the world to play with.

Then there’s the constantly fluctuating price of oil. The complex and custom nature of most of its parts. The precise conditions and temperatures you’ve got to apply to even think about molding it. And the lack of skilled craftsman to actually do it. Add it all up and right now, the price of carbon fiber is around THIRTY TIMES that of steel.

That said, carbon fiber’s still a major component of high-end fishing rods, mountain bikes and supercars. But nobody would ever even think about trying to make sunglasses out of it. I mean, they’d have to be certifiably insane.


Why are we messing around with carbon fiber?


Newbear Lesniewski


February 03, 2009