CFRP composites are lightweight, sturdy materials that are widely used in the manufacture of a wide range of products used in our daily lives. A carbon fiber reinforced composite material, referred to as a carbon fiber composite material, refers to a fiber reinforced composite material using carbon fiber as a main structural component. It should be noted that the “P” in the CFRP composite may represent not only “polymer” but also “plastic”.
In general, thermosetting resins such as epoxy resins, polyesters, or vinyl esters are often used in CFRP composites. Although thermoplastic resins are also used in CFRP composites, “carbon fiber reinforced thermoplastic composites” are often referred to as CFRTP composites, representing the acronym for the English name Carbon Fiber Reinforced Thermoplastic Composites.
When dealing with composite materials, it is important to understand a material-specific terminology and abbreviation. More importantly, however, it is important to understand the properties of FRP composites and their various reinforcing materials, such as carbon fiber.
Carbon fiber composite properties
Carbon fiber reinforced composites, unlike other FRP composites that use traditional fibers such as fiberglass or aramid fibers, the excellent properties of CFRP composites include:
Lightweight – Traditional fiberglass reinforced composites use continuous glass fibers in an amount of 70% (weight glass/total weight) and typically 0.065 pounds per cubic inch.
High strength – CFRP composites, despite their light weight, have higher strength and greater hardness per unit weight of CFRP composite than glass fiber composites. This advantage is even more pronounced when compared to metallic materials. For example, experience tells us that CFRP materials weigh only 1/5 of steel under equal strength conditions compared to steel. Imagine why all car manufacturers are researching the use of carbon fiber instead of steel to improve their performance.
When CFRP composites are compared to aluminum, one of the lightest metals, according to the basic assumption, the strength of the aluminum material is about 1.5 times the weight of the carbon fiber body.
Of course, there are many other variables in the experiment that may affect the comparison results. For example, the grade and quality of the materials are different, and the compounding process, production process, fiber structure and quality also need to be taken into account.
Disadvantages of carbon fiber composites
High cost – despite the excellent performance of CFRP composites, why are carbon fibers not widely used in product production? At present, the production cost of CFRP composite materials is too high. According to the current market conditions (supply and demand), the type of carbon fiber (aerospace vs commercial grade), the size of the fiber bundle is different, and the price of the fiber is also judged.
The price per pound of carbon fiber raw material can vary from 5 to 25 times the price of fiberglass. Compared with steel, the high cost of CFRP materials is even more prominent.
Conductivity – This can be used both as an advantage in carbon fiber composites and as a drawback in practical applications. Carbon fibers are extremely conductive, while glass fibers are insulated. Many products use fiberglass instead of carbon fiber or metal because they require strict insulation.
In the production of utilities, many products require the use of fiberglass. For example, the production of ladders uses fiberglass as a ladder because the possibility of electric shock is much reduced when the fiberglass ladder is in contact with the power line. The carbon fiber ladder is extremely conductive and the consequences are unimaginable.
Despite the high cost of carbon fiber composites, with the advancement of technology, more and more high-efficiency products are just around the corner. Perhaps in the lifetime, we will be able to witness the wide range of applications of high-performance carbon fiber products in the consumer market, industrial production and automobile manufacturing.