The Advantages of Carbon Fiber in the Aerospace Industry
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The global carbon fiber market reached a value of $3.7 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow to $8.9 billion by 2031.
Carbon fiber has several characteristics that make it one of the most useful and versatile materials available today.
The use of carbon fiber can give many benefits. To find out why, keep reading.
What Is Carbon Fiber
Carbon fiber is a polymer made up of interwoven fibers. These fibers consist of strands that have a diameter of roughly 5-10 micrometers – less than that of human hair.
When woven together these fibers give carbon fiber fabric. The cloth can then be placed over a mold and coated in resin or plastic to give it a permanent shape.
Advantages of Carbon Fiber
Perhaps the most well-known characteristic of carbon fiber is its strength. I can typically have an ultimate tensile strength of around 500 ksi (3.5 Gpa).
To put this into perspective, steel and aluminum generally have an ultimate tensile strength of 65 ksi and 125 ksi respectively.
The strength of carbon fiber is already impressive, but when the weight is taken into account it really begins to stand out.
As far as metals go, aluminum has one of the best strength-to-weight ratios. Carbon fiber is significantly stronger than aluminum and weighs about 40% less.
This makes it an incredibly useful material in the aerospace industry, as strength and weight are two of the most important factors when designing aircraft parts.
A plane that uses carbon fiber over aluminum can weigh as much as 20% less. Lightweight material means better fuel efficiency, and it is estimated that for every kilogram reduced there is a saving of about $1 million in costs over the lifetime of the aircraft.
The manufacturing process allows carbon fiber parts to be very complex, yet very smooth. Therefore, parts can be better optimized for aerodynamics.
This helps improve fuel efficiency and means an aircraft will be faster overall. The stiffness is also ideal for making aircraft with swept wings in commercial aircraft. This decreased drag and can reduce fuel consumption by up to 5%.
Steel contains iron, which makes certain types susceptible to rust. Aluminum does not rust but if exposed to moisture and other outside elements for a long time it can begin to corrode.
Something that is very useful for aerospace applications, as well as other uses, is that carbon fiber is completely resistant to both rust and corrosion.
Due to its many benefits, carbon fiber has become a common material to use for several applications:
Sporting goods (tennis rackets, hockey sticks, golf clubs, archery bows and arrows, etc.)
Wind turbine blades
Automotive industry (Formula 1, NASCAR, and high-end cars)
Medical equipment (x-ray/imaging equipment and prosthetic limbs)
Beyond mechanical properties, sometimes carbon fiber will be used simply for its appearance. This is most common in high-end cars.