Stay Home. Stay Safe. Stay Informed:

All about carbon fibre

The following article was sourced from a Wikipedia page at the following address:


Tail of a radio-controlled helicopter, made of CFRP

Carbon fibre–reinforced polymer, carbon fibre–reinforced plastic or carbon fibre–reinforced thermoplastic (CFRP, CRP, CFRTP or often simply carbon fibre, or even carbon), is an extremely strong and light fibre-reinforced polymer which contains carbon fibres.

CFRPs can be expensive to produce but are commonly used wherever high strength-to-weight ratio and rigidity are required, such as aerospace, automotive and civil engineering, sports goods and an increasing number of other consumer and technical applications.

The binding polymer is often a thermoset resin such as epoxy, but other thermoset or thermoplastic polymers, such as polyester, vinyl ester or nylon, are sometimes used. The composite may contain other fibres, such as aramid e.g. Kevlar, Twaron, aluminium, Ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) or glass fibres, as well as carbon fibre. The properties of the final CFRP product can also be affected by the type of additives introduced to the binding matrix (the resin). The most frequent additive is silica, but other additives such as rubber and carbon nanotubes can be used. The material is also referred to as graphite-reinforced polymer or graphite fibre-reinforced polymer (GFRP is less common, as it clashes with glass-(fibre)-reinforced polymer). In product advertisements, it is sometimes referred to simply as graphite fibre for short.


Carbon-fibre-reinforced polymers are composite materials. In this case the composite consists of two parts: a matrix and a reinforcement. In CFRP the reinforcement is carbon fibre, which provides the strength. The matrix is usually a polymer resin, such as epoxy, to bind the reinforcements together. Because CFRP consists of two distinct elements, the material properties depend on these two elements.

The reinforcement will give the CFRP its strength and rigidity; measured by stress and elastic modulus respectively. Unlike isotropic materials like steel and aluminium, CFRP has directional strength properties. The properties of CFRP depend on the layouts of the carbon fibre and the proportion of the carbon fibres relative to the polymer.

Despite its high initial strength-to-weight ratio, a design limitation of CFRP is its lack of a definable fatigue endurance limit. This means, theoretically, that stress cycle failure cannot be ruled out. While steel and many other structural metals and alloys do have estimable fatigue endurance limits, the complex failure modes of composites mean that the fatigue failure properties of CFRP are difficult to predict and design for. As a result, when using CFRP for critical cyclic-loading applications, engineers may need to design in considerable strength safety margins to provide suitable component reliability over its service life.


Carbon fibre reinforced polymer
The primary element of CFRP is a carbon filament; this is produced from a precursor polymer such as polyacrylonitrile (PAN), rayon, or petroleum pitch. For synthetic polymers such as PAN or rayon, the precursor is first spun into filament yarns, using chemical and mechanical processes to initially align the polymer atoms in a way to enhance the final physical properties of the completed carbon fibre. Precursor compositions and mechanical processes used during spinning filament yarns may vary among manufacturers. After drawing or spinning, the polymer filament yarns are then heated to drive off non-carbon atoms (carbonization), producing the final carbon fibre. The carbon fibres filament yarns may be further treated to improve handling qualities, then wound on to bobbins. From these fibres, a unidirectional sheet is created. These sheets are layered onto each other in a quasi-isotropic layup, e.g. 0°, +60° or −60° relative to each other.

From the elementary fibre, a bidirectional woven sheet can be created, i.e. a twill with a 2/2 weave. The process by which most carbon-fibre-reinforced polymer is made varies, depending on the piece being created, the finish (outside gloss) required, and how many of this particular piece are going to be produced. In addition, the choice of matrix can have a profound effect on the properties of the finished composite.

Many carbon-fibre-reinforced polymer parts are created with a single layer of carbon fabric that is backed with fibreglass. A tool called a chopper gun is used to quickly create these composite parts. Once a thin shell is created out of carbon fibre, the chopper gun cuts rolls of fibreglass into short lengths and sprays resin at the same time, so that the fibreglass and resin are mixed on the spot. The resin is either external mix, wherein the hardener and resin are sprayed separately, or internal mixed, which requires cleaning after every use. Manufacturing methods may include the following:

One method of producing graphite-epoxy parts is by layering sheets of carbon fibre cloth into a mould in the shape of the final product. The alignment and weave of the cloth fibres is chosen to optimize the strength and stiffness properties of the resulting material. The mould is then filled with epoxy and is heated or air-cured. The resulting part is very corrosion-resistant, stiff, and strong for its weight. Parts used in less critical areas are manufactured by draping cloth over a mould, with epoxy either preimpregnated into the fibres (also known as pre-preg) or "painted" over it. High-performance parts using single moulds are often vacuum-bagged and/or autoclave-cured, because even small air bubbles in the material will reduce strength. An alternative to the autoclave method is to use internal pressure via inflatable air bladders or EPS foam inside the non-cured laid-up carbon fibre.

Vacuum bagging
For simple pieces of which relatively few copies are needed (1–2 per day), a vacuum bag can be used. A fibreglass, carbon fibre or aluminium mould is polished and waxed, and has a release agent applied before the fabric and resin are applied, and the vacuum is pulled and set aside to allow the piece to cure (harden). There are three ways to apply the resin to the fabric in a vacuum mould.

The first method is manual and called a wet layup, where the two-part resin is mixed and applied before being laid in the mould and placed in the bag. The other one is done by infusion, where the dry fabric and mould are placed inside the bag while the vacuum pulls the resin through a small tube into the bag, then through a tube with holes or something similar to evenly spread the resin throughout the fabric. Wire loom works perfectly for a tube that requires holes inside the bag. Both of these methods of applying resin require hand work to spread the resin evenly for a glossy finish with very small pin-holes.

A third method of constructing composite materials is known as a dry layup. Here, the carbon fibre material is already impregnated with resin (pre-preg) and is applied to the mould in a similar fashion to adhesive film. The assembly is then placed in a vacuum to cure. The dry layup method has the least amount of resin waste and can achieve lighter constructions than wet layup. Also, because larger amounts of resin are more difficult to bleed out with wet layup methods, pre-preg parts generally have fewer pinholes. Pinhole elimination with minimal resin amounts generally require the use of autoclave pressures to purge the residual gases out.

Compression moulding
A quicker method uses a compression mould. This is a two-piece (male and female) mould usually made out of aluminium or steel that is pressed together with the fabric and resin between the two. The benefit is the speed of the entire process. Some car manufacturers, such as BMW, claimed to be able to cycle a new part every 80 seconds. However, this technique has a very high initial cost since the moulds require CNC machining of very high precision.

Filament winding
For difficult or convoluted shapes, a filament winder can be used to make CFRP parts by winding filaments around a mandrel or a core.


Applications for CFRP include the following:

Aerospace engineering

Airbus A350, 52% composite materials

The Airbus A350 XWB is built of 52% CFRP including wing spars and fuselage components, taking the lead from the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, for the aircraft with the highest weight ratio for CFRP, which was held at 50%. This, along with the Airbus A400M is one of the first commercial aircraft to have the wing spars made from composites, although the A400M isn't the first military aircraft to have structural composite components. Furthermore, the Airbus A380 is one of the first commercial airliner to have a central wing box made of CFRP; it is the first to have a smoothly contoured wing cross section instead of the wings being partitioned span-wise into sections. This flowing, continuous cross section optimises aerodynamic efficiency. Moreover, the trailing edge along with the rear bulkhead and Empennage and un-pressurized Fuselage are made of CFRP. However, many delays have pushed order delivery dates back because of problems with the manufacturing of these parts. Many aircraft that use CFRP have experienced delays with delivery dates due to the relatively new processes used to make CFRP components whereas, metallic structures have been studied and metallics have been used for years upon airframes and the processes are firmly fixed in place.

In 1968 a Hyfil carbon-fibre fan assembly was in service on the Rolls-Royce Conways of the Vickers VC10s operated by BOAC.

Specialist aircraft designer and manufacturer Scaled Composites have made extensive use of CFRP throughout their design range including the first private manned spacecraft Spaceship One. CFRP is widely used in micro air vehicles (MAVs) because of its high strength to weight ratio.

Ultralight aircraft (see SSDR) such as the E-Go, rely heavily on CFRP in order to meet the category weight compliance requirement of less than 115 kg (254 lb) without pilot or fuel.

Automotive engineering

Honeycomb structure made of injection-moulded plastic fixed onto a carbon-fibre-reinforced polymer chassis on a BMW i3

Carbon-fibre-reinforced polymer is used extensively in high-end automobile racing. The high cost of carbon fibre is mitigated by the material's unsurpassed strength-to-weight ratio, and low weight is essential for high-performance automobile racing. Race-car manufacturers have also developed methods to give carbon fibre pieces strength in a certain direction, making it strong in a load-bearing direction, but weak in directions where little or no load would be placed on the member. Conversely, manufacturers developed omnidirectional carbon fibre weaves that apply strength in all directions. This type of carbon fibre assembly is most widely used in the "safety cell" monocoque chassis assembly of high-performance race-cars.

Many supercars over the past few decades have incorporated CFRP extensively in their manufacture, using it for their monocoque chassis as well as other components.

Until recently, the material has had limited use in mass-produced cars because of the expense involved in terms of materials, equipment, and the relatively limited pool of individuals with expertise in working with it. Recently, several mainstream vehicle manufacturers have started to use CFRP in everyday road cars.

Use of the material has been more readily adopted by low-volume manufacturers who used it primarily for creating body-panels for some of their high-end cars due to its increased strength and decreased weight compared with the glass-reinforced polymer they used for the majority of their products.

Use of carbon fibre in a vehicle can appreciably reduce the weight and hence the size of its frame. This will also facilitate designers' and engineers' creativity and allow more in-cabin space for commuters. The new BMW i3 is made with a carbon fibre that not only reduces weight in the car, but reduces the amount of water and electricity used to make it.

Civil engineering
Carbon-fibre-reinforced polymer (CFRP) has become a notable material in structural engineering applications. Studied in an academic context as to its potential benefits in construction, it has also proved itself cost-effective in a number of field applications strengthening concrete, masonry, steel, cast iron, and timber structures. Its use in industry can be either for retrofitting to strengthen an existing structure or as an alternative reinforcing (or pre-stressing) material instead of steel from the outset of a project.

Retrofitting has become the increasingly dominant use of the material in civil engineering, and applications include increasing the load capacity of old structures (such as bridges) that were designed to tolerate far lower service loads than they are experiencing today, seismic retrofitting, and repair of damaged structures. Retrofitting is popular in many instances as the cost of replacing the deficient structure can greatly exceed its strengthening using CFRP.

Applied to reinforced concrete structures for flexure, CFRP typically has a large impact on strength (doubling or more the strength of the section is not uncommon), but only a moderate increase in stiffness (perhaps a 10% increase). This is because the material used in this application is typically very strong (e.g., 3000 MPa ultimate tensile strength, more than 10 times mild steel) but not particularly stiff (150 to 250 GPa, a little less than steel, is typical). As a consequence, only small cross-sectional areas of the material are used. Small areas of very high strength but moderate stiffness material will significantly increase strength, but not stiffness.

CFRP can also be applied to enhance shear strength of reinforced concrete by wrapping fabrics or fibres around the section to be strengthened. Wrapping around sections (such as bridge or building columns) can also enhance the ductility of the section, greatly increasing the resistance to collapse under earthquake loading. Such 'seismic retrofit' is the major application in earthquake-prone areas, since it is much more economic than alternative methods.

If a column is circular (or nearly so) an increase in axial capacity is also achieved by wrapping. In this application, the confinement of the CFRP wrap enhances the compressive strength of the concrete. However, although large increases are achieved in the ultimate collapse load, the concrete will crack at only slightly enhanced load, meaning that this application is only occasionally used.

Specialist ultra-high modulus CFRP (with tensile modulus of 420 GPa or more) is one of the few practical methods of strengthening cast-iron beams. In typical use, it is bonded to the tensile flange of the section, both increasing the stiffness of the section and lowering the neutral axis, thus greatly reducing the maximum tensile stress in the cast iron.

When used as a replacement for steel, CFRP bars could be used to reinforce concrete structures, however this application is not common.

CFRP could be used as pre-stressing materials due to their high strength. The advantages of CFRP over steel as a pre-stressing material, namely its light weight and corrosion resistance, should enable the material to be used for niche applications such as in offshore environments. However, there are practical difficulties in anchorage of carbon fibre strands and applications of this are rare.

In the United States, pre-stressed concrete cylinder pipes (PCCP) account for a vast majority of water transmission mains. Due to their large diameters, failures of PCCP are usually catastrophic and affect large populations. Approximately 19,000 miles of PCCP have been installed between 1940 and 2006. Corrosion in the form of hydrogen embrittlement has been blamed for the gradual deterioration of the pre-stressing wires in many PCCP lines. Over the past decade, CFRPs have been utilized to internally line PCCP, resulting in a fully structural strengthening system. Inside a PCCP line, the CFRP liner acts as a barrier that controls the level of strain experienced by the steel cylinder in the host pipe. The composite liner enables the steel cylinder to perform within its elastic range, to ensure the pipeline's long-term performance is maintained. CFRP liner designs are based on strain compatibility between the liner and host pipe.

CFRP is a more costly material than its counterparts in the construction industry, glass fibre-reinforced polymer (GFRP) and aramid fibre-reinforced polymer (AFRP), though CFRP is, in general, regarded as having superior properties.

Much research continues to be done on using CFRP both for retrofitting and as an alternative to steel as a reinforcing or pre-stressing material. Cost remains an issue and long-term durability questions still remain. Some are concerned about the brittle nature of CFRP, in contrast to the ductility of steel. Though design codes have been drawn up by institutions such as the American Concrete Institute, there remains some hesitation among the engineering community about implementing these alternative materials. In part, this is due to a lack of standardization and the proprietary nature of the fibre and resin combinations on the market.

Carbon fibre microelectrodes
Carbon fibres are used for fabrication of carbon-fibre microelectrodes. In this application typically a single carbon fibre with diameter of 5–7 μm is sealed in a glass capillary. At the tip the capillary is either sealed with epoxy and polished to make carbon-fibre disk microelectrode or the fibre is cut to a length of 75–150 μm to make carbon-fibre cylinder electrode. Carbon-fibre microelectrodes are used either in amperometry or fast-scan cyclic voltammetry for detection of biochemical signalling.

Sports goods

A carbon-fibre and Kevlar canoe (Placid Boatworks Rapidfire at the Adirondack Canoe Classic)

CFRP is now widely used in sports equipment. For the same strength, a CFRP bicycle frame weighs less than one of steel, aluminium, or titanium. The type and orientation of the carbon-fibre weave can be designed to maximize stiffness and minimize the chance of failure. The variety of shapes it can be built into has further increased stiffness and also allowed aerodynamic tube sections. CFRP frames, forks including suspension fork crowns and steerers, handlebars, seatposts, and crank arms are becoming more common on medium as well as higher-priced bicycles. CFRP wheels, while expensive, are also becoming popular. The higher yield strength of the CFRP rims compared to aluminium reduces the need to re-true a wheel, and the reduced mass of the rim also reduces the moment of inertia of the wheel, since it is a rotating component. Rarely, the spokes of the wheel can be made from CFRP, but most carbon wheelsets still use traditional stainless steel spokes. Some other less common uses of CFRP on bicycles include derailleur parts, brake and shifter levers and lever bodies, cassette sprocket carriers, suspension linkages, disc brake rotors, pedals, shoe soles, and saddle rails.

CFRP is used in squash, tennis and badminton racquets, sport kite spars, high quality arrow shafts, hockey sticks, fishing rods, surfboards and rowing shells. Amputee athletes such as Oscar Pistorius use carbon fibre blades for running. It is used as a shank plate in some basketball sneakers to keep the foot stable, usually running the length of the shoe just above the sole and left exposed in some areas, usually in the arch.

In 2006, cricket bats with a thin carbon-fibre layer on the back were introduced and used in competitive matches by high-profile players including Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey. The carbon fibre was claimed merely to increase the durability of the bats but was banned from all first-class matches by the ICC in 2007.

Although lighter and stiffer than items made of traditional metals, CFRP may, under some circumstances, show significant rates of cracking and failure. This can occur as because of impact or if components are over-torqued or improperly installed but it is possible for broken carbon frames to be repaired.

Other applications
The fire resistance of polymers and thermo-set composites is significantly improved if a thin layer of carbon fibres is moulded near the surface because a dense, compact layer of carbon fibres efficiently reflects heat.

CFRP is also finding application in an increasing number of high-end products that require stiffness and low weight, these include:

  • Laptop cases by an increasing number of manufacturers.
  • Audio components such as turntables and loudspeakers.
  • Musical instruments, including violin bows, guitar pick-guards, drum shells, bagpipe chanters and entire musical instruments such as Luis and Clark's carbon fibre cellos, violas and violins.
  • Kite systems use carbon fibre reinforced rods to obtain shapes and performances previously not possible.
  • Firearms use it to replace certain metal, wood, and fibreglass components but many of the internal parts are still limited to metal alloys as current reinforced plastics are unsuitable.
  • High-performance radio-controlled vehicle and aircraft components such as helicopter rotor blades.
  • Tripod legs, tent poles, fishing rods, billiards cues.
  • Many other light and durable consumer items such as the handles of high-end knives.
  • Poles for high reach, e.g. poles used by window cleaners and water fed poles.
  • In dentistry, carbon fibre posts are used in restoring root canal treated teeth.


Carbon-fibre-reinforced polymers (CFRPs) have a long service lifetime when protected from the sun. When it is time to decommission CFRPs, they cannot be melted down in air like many metals. When free of vinyl (PVC or polyvinyl chloride) and other halogenated polymers, CFRPs can be thermally decomposed via thermal depolymerization in an oxygen-free environment. This can be accomplished in a refinery in a one-step process. Capture and reuse of the carbon and monomers is then possible. CFRPs can also be milled or shredded at low temperature to reclaim the carbon fibre, however this process shortens the fibres dramatically. Just as with downcycled paper, the shortened fibres cause the recycled material to be weaker than the original material. There are still many industrial applications that do not need the strength of full-length carbon fibre reinforcement. For example, chopped reclaimed carbon fibre can be used in consumer electronics, such as laptops. It provides excellent reinforcement of the polymers used even if it lacks the strength-to-weight ratio of an aerospace component.


In 2009, Zyvex Technologies introduced carbon nanotube-reinforced epoxy and carbon prepregs. Carbon nanotube reinforced polymer (CNRP) is several times stronger and tougher than CFRP and was used in the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II as a structural material for aircraft. CNRP still uses carbon fibre as the primary reinforcement, but the binding matrix is a carbon nano-tube filled epoxy.

To read more about carbon fibre, please click on the following link: