Improving carbon fibre production

Making higher quality carbon fibre will be easier thanks to infrared analysis being used at the Australian Synchrotron.

The tough fibre, which is 10 times stronger and five times lighter than steel, is made by heating a synthetic product called polyacrylonitrile (PAN) in temperatures up to 600°C.

Some aircraft, high performance cars and the new electric BMW i3 are partly made with it. But slow and costly manufacturing methods currently deter the mass use of carbon fibre in automotive and aeronautical industries.

It was thought PAN transformed into carbon fibre from the outside layers inwards. But, using infrared technology to capture the most detailed 3-D images to date of its formation, the team revealed the core turns into carbon fibre first and that quick, high temperatures can weaken outer layers. 

“We have been able to look at the chemical structure inside the fibres which wasn’t previously possible, and this allows us to improve the production process,” says Dr Mark Tobin, the Australian Synchrotron’s Principal Scientist (Infrared).

To improve the fibre’s strength and reduce energy use in production, a team from Carbon Nexus, Deakin University’s carbon fibre research hub, including PhD student Srinivas Nunna and Dr Claudia Creighton, collaborated with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and colleagues from Swinburne University of Technology.

At ANSTO’s Australian Synchrotron, the scientists imaged cross-sections of PAN fibres one hundredth of a millimetre thick. The process involves focusing infrared beams onto fibres via a magnifying lens made of germanium—a silicon-like crystal.

The research, published in the Journal of Materials Chemistry A, was initiated and led by Swinburne University’s Dr Nishar Hameed.

From L to R: Swinburne’s Dr Nishar Hameed and Deakin’s Maxime Maghe and Srinivas Nunna using the Synchrotron’s infrared beam equipment.

For more information:

Australian Synchrotron
Mark Tobin
+61 3 8540 4172