Carbon Fiber: Properties, Classification, Manufacturing and Uses

Last Updated on 04/05/2023

Manufacturing Process of Carbon Fiber

Anup Kumar Mohanta
Dept. of Textile Engineering
College of Engineering and Technology,
Bhubaneswar, Odisha, India


What is Carbon Fiber?
A carbon fiber is a long, thin strand about 5–10 μm in diameter and composed mostly of carbon atoms. It is also called graphite fiber or carbon graphite, carbon fiber consists of very thin strands of the element carbon. It is a high performance fiber. Carbon fibers are manufactured from two pre cursors known as PAN (poly acrylonitrile) and pitch or any other organic base fibers. The carbon atoms are bonded together in microscopic crystals that are more or less aligned parallel to the axis of the fiber. This crystal alignment makes the fiber incredibly strong. Several thousand carbon fibers are joined together to form a yarn.

carbon fiber
Fig: Carbon fiber

Properties of Carbon Fiber:
Carbon fibers properties rely on the process utilized for its production, the raw material, and the specific production process. Carbon fibers are popular as the most efficient lightweight material to use as alternative to conventional metals for numerous structural uses. It is a lightweight, strong, and durable material that is made from carbon atoms. Here are some of its key properties:

  • Carbon fibre plates are thin, strong and flexible, they can be designed and installed to provide a cost effective solution which does not detract visually from the original design of the structure.
  • It has high stiffness, high tensile strength, low weight, high chemical resistance, high temperature tolerance and one of the most popular materials in civil engineering.

Here is a table summarizing some of the key properties of carbon fibre:

Density1.75 – 1.95 g/cm³
Tensile strength600 – 7000 MPa
Young’s modulus230 – 850 GPa
StiffnessVery stiff
Thermal expansionLow coefficient of thermal expansion
Corrosion resistanceHighly resistant to corrosion
Electrical conductivityGood conductor of electricity
Fatigue resistanceGood resistance to repeated loading cycles
Aesthetic appealUnique look and texture that many people find appealing

Classification of Carbon Fiber:
At present, carbon fiber has the rapid development, and there are many types of carbon fiber production at home and abroad. Generally, they can be classified by the type of fiber precursor, carbon fibre property and purpose.

a) Classification according to the type of precursor fiber materials

  1. PAN-based carbon fibre;
  2. Pitch-based carbon fibre;
  3. Rayon-based carbon fibre;
  4. Vapor-grown carbon fibre.

b) Classification of carbon fiber according to different manufacture methods

  1. Carbon fiber (800∼1600°C),
  2. Graphite fibers (2000∼3000°C),
  3. Oxidative fibers (preoxidation fiber at 200∼300°C),
  4. Activated carbon fibre and
  5. Vaporgrown carbon fibre.

c) Classification of carbon fibre according to mechanical properties

  1. General grade carbon fibre (GP) and
  2. High performance carbon fibre (HP)

d) Classification of carbon fibre according to the function
It includes:

  1. Load structure using carbon fibre;
  2. Flame resistant (fire) carbon fibre
  3. Activated carbon fibre (adsorption activity);
  4. Conductive carbon fibre;
  5. Carbon fiber used for lubrication;
  6. Wear-resistant carbon fibre;
  7. Corrosion resistant carbon fibre.

e) Classification of carbon fibre according to application field

Manufacturing Process of Carbon Fiber
Carbon fiber can be manufactured from PAN and PITCH. These processes are described below.

A typical process used to manufacturing of carbon fiber from PAN includes spinning, stabilization, carbonizing, surface treating, and sizing.

Structure of carbon fiber
Fig: Structure of carbon fiber

1. PAN contains highly polar C-N groups that are randomly arranged on either side of the chain.

2. Carbon filaments are wet spun from a solution of PAN and stretched at an elevated temperature during which the polymer chains are aligned in the filament direction. Then the filament are heated at 200 to 3000C for a few hours.

3. At this stage the C-N groups located on the same side combine to form a more stable and rigid ladder like structure and some of the CH2 groups are oxidized.

4. In the next stage the PAN filaments are carbonized by heating at a controlled rate between 1000 to 20000C in an inert atmosphere.

5. Tension is maintained on the filament to prevent shrinkage and to improve molecular orientation.

6. Subsequently the carbonized filaments are heated above 20000C, where their structures becomes more oriented and turns towards a true graphite form with increasing heat treatment temperature.

7. At this stage the graphitized filaments attain a high tensile modulus, but their tensile strength may be relatively low.

8. Tensile strength can be increased by hot stretching above 20000C.


1. Pitch is a byproduct of petroleum refining, and is a lower cost raw material than PAN.

2. The carbon atoms in pitch are arranged in low molecular weight aromatic ring patterns.

3. Heating to temperature above 300°C polymerizes these molecules into long two dimensional sheet like structure.

4. The highly viscose state of pitch at this stage is called mesophase.

5. Pitch filaments are produced by melt spinning the mesophase pitch through a spinneret.

6. The filaments are cooled to freeze the molecular orientation and then heated between 200 to 300°C in oxygen atmosphere to stabilize them and make them infusible.

7. In the next step the filaments are carbonized at 2000°C.

8. Rest of process of transferring the structure to graphitic form is similar to that followed for PAN precautions.

Standard Carbon Fiber Properties
Fig: Standard Carbon Fiber Properties

Uses of Carbon Fiber:
The carbon fibers are an important part of many products, and new applications are being developed every year. Carbon fibre-reinforced composite materials are used in the automotive and aerospace industry, sports and many other components where light weight and high strength are needed. Carbon fibers have high electric conductivity (volumetric impedance) and at the same time have excellent EMI shielding property. This successfully brings CFRP (Carbon fiber reinforced plastics) to the field of EMI shielding. Carbon fibers have low heat expansion ratio and high dimensional stability, and sustains its mechanical performances even under high temperature region. CFRP is superior to steel or glass fiber reinforced plastics (GFRP) in its specific tensile strength and specific elastic modulus (specific rigidity). Fatigue resistance of Carbon fiber surpasses that of other structural material. Carbon fibers are used in the following fields: Aerospace industry, sporting goods, automobiles, wind turbine blades, military, medical applications and many more fields.


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1 thought on “Carbon Fiber: Properties, Classification, Manufacturing and Uses”

  1. This is such a well-written piece! I appreciate the clear breakdown of the uses of carbon fiber in different industries. The applications in aerospace, automotive, and sports equipment are mind-blowing.


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