Ever Wondered Why Carbon Fiber So Expensive?

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

My paddle

If you have ever wondered why carbon fiber is still such a crazy expensive item even after 50 years since it was invented, Gizmodo has a great article explaining the whole thing.

Turns out that even half a century later, this stuff is still a major pain in the a@# to make.

Before carbon fiber becomes carbon fiber, it starts as a base material—usually an organic polymer with carbon atoms binding together long strings of molecules called a polyacrylonitrile. It's a big word for a material similar to the acrylics in sweaters and carpets. But unlike floor and clothing acrylics, the kind that turns into a material stronger and lighter than steel has a heftier price tag. A three-ish-dollar per pound starting price may not sound exorbitant, but in its manufacturing, the number spikes.

See, to get the carbon part of carbon fiber, half of the starting material's acrylic needs to be kicked away. "The final product will cost double what you started with because half burns off," explains Bob Norris of Oak Ridge National Laboratory's polymer matrix composites group. "Before you even account for energy and equipment, the precursor in the final product is something around $5 a pound."

That price-$5 a pound-is also the magic number for getting carbon fiber into mainstream automotive applications. Seven bones will do, but five will make the biggest splash. So as it stands, the base material alone ($10/pound) has already blown the budget.

Click through for the full article as well as how it’s made.

Image used under Creative Commons on Flickr from *Jan Smith.

David Johnston

David Johnston

David Johnston has been introducing people to the sport of sea kayaking for the past 15 years. He is a senior instructor trainer with Paddle Canada and teaches for several paddling schools in Ontario, Canada. Full Bio.

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