Carbon Fiber… Where are you?

An image (from Wikipedia) showing the diameter of a human hair (grayish in background) compared with that of a carbon fiber filament running above it (black).

Carbon fiber—sound familiar to you? I thought so. But do you really know ANYTHING about it? Probably not as much as you should, for as often as we’ve overheard a report about it over the years in the “technological breakthroughs” section of the nightly news, being implemented into some new equipment at NASA or in the military. And do you know when (if at all) you actually get to use it in your daily routine? So why, if carbon fiber is so “innovative” enough as to keep popping up in our everyday news as some “miracle material,” does this mystic never seem to rise above its own hype, and finally make its mark in our everyday lives? (And I mean us “normal” people… you know, non-astronaut, non-fighter pilot folk)

Carbon fiber is a material made up of thousands of small strands, or filaments, which are tightly woven together into a fabric, just like the shirt on your back is woven with threads of cotton. There are two major differences, though. One, the “threads” used in carbon fiber are made of, well, carbon… which, as you can imagine, has quite a bit more brawn than cotton (diamonds are also made of carbon, just to give you an idea). Two, each strand of carbon is only about 5 micrometers in diameter (like the one in the image above), whereas cotton fibers are typically up to 20 micrometers in diameter… just  a little “fatter” than a human hair. The result is a material with extreme strength and rigidity. So if we can make fabrics (yes, fabrics) that are stronger than even the strongest metals we dig up out of the ground, and which are made up of one of the most abundant elements on earth, how come we don’t see this technology more often in our daily lives?  I’ll bet you guessed the BIG reason ($$$). But are there any real reasons as to why we don’t see carbon fiber enter our mainstream lifestyles, and live up to the hype it has been building for quite some time now? I mean PCs were expensive technology (and even unnecessary, believe it or not) at one time, too, but we all know what happened with that one.


One comment

  1. krama017

    Contemplating technological innovation brought material innovation to mind. Carbon fiber is a fast-growing material for many types of products. In the above statement, it is said that carbon fiber is not making it into the general population’s everyday lives, but I would disagree. In the last few years, as many other people I have become slightly familiar with carbon fiber—what it is and what its current common use is.

    As a friend of several car fanatics, I have seen several friends be excited about carbon fiber car body parts. In a way, it is a new way to accessorize vehicles while improving function. This is a great innovation for the future of cars for look and functionality. Some people even go to the extent as to cover their entire vehicle in a carbon fiber wrap (a sticker-like material for vehicles and other similar products for aesthetic and protective purposes).

    That being said, it is evident that carbon fiber materials are entering mainstream society for a variety of uses. Searching for other uses, a website was found suggesting that carbon fiber is the new black (a popular idea amongst car fanatics also) that has a variety of carbon fiber products from furniture and accessories to actual carbon fiber sheets for reasonable prices. Linked is a blog showing a wide variety of additional uses. Website:

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