As a material, carbon fiber has fundamentally changed many of the products we use every day, making them stronger, lighter and more durable. Experts estimate that the specialty material is twice as stiff as steel and five times stronger, per unit of weight.
Carbon fiber is made from organic polymers that consist of long strings of molecules held together by carbon atoms. The manufacturing process typically is
unique to each supplier and can be as complex as the molecules themselves. Gases, liquids and other materials used in the manufacturing process create specific strengths, qualities and grades of carbon fiber. Thermal processing within a series of ovens or furnaces also give the strands their desired characteristics by varying temperatures, dwell time and oxygen levels. As you can imagine, the energy demand and heat input needed for the carbon fiber processing is extensive.
When the industry first began, the operating costs for the first carbon fiber conversion plants were not critical design parameters, and neither were the environmental effects. As the demand for carbon fiber expands, however, much has been done on the production side to increase efficiency and reduce energy the demands of the oxidation and carbonization furnaces and ovens.