Is Carbon Fiber Conductive?

Is Carbon Fiber Conductive?

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Is carbon fiber conductive? Yes, it is very conductive in some ways if made correctly. Let’s dive deeper into the subject to examine the properties and potential of this amazing polymer.

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In This Article:

  1. What are Carbon Fibers?
  2. How Is Carbon Fiber Made?
  3. Is Carbon Fiber Conductive on Its Own?
  4. How Can We Make Carbon Fiber More Conductive?
  5. Is Carbon Fiber Conductive When Compared to Metal?
  6. What Are the Uses Of Conductive Carbon Fiber?


What are Carbon Fibers?

Carbon fibers are graphite-like long-chain carbon units having a networked structure. The long-chain networked units of carbon occur due to the catenation property of carbon atoms, i.e. the linkage of atoms of a similar element.

Thomas Elva Edison is credited with creating the first carbon filament for testing in the bulb's electric filament using natural cotton.

Precursors are the raw elements utilized in the production of carbon fibers.


How Is Carbon Fiber Made?

Most carbon fiber is made from a process called polyacrylonitrile, or PAN. In the process, a fiber sheet is exposed to such high heat that nearly everything except the carbon itself is burned off. 

Steps to Manufacture Normal Carbon Fibers:

1: Polymerization: To make a long-chain polymer, the precursor is polymerized.

2: Spinning: After that, the polymer is spun into long fibers. Chemical and mechanical procedures are commonly employed.

3: Oxidizing: The fiber is stabilized by heating it in the air. It absorbs oxygen from the air and undergoes a sophisticated atomic rearrangement process to stabilize the fiber.

4: Carbonization: In the absence of oxygen, high-temperature treatment of the oxidized and stabilized fiber aids in the loss of non-carbon atoms, resulting in a tightly packed carbon fiber.

5: Surface treatment: Carbonized fibers have poor bonding capabilities, making it difficult for them to merge with epoxy resins to produce a composite. To acquire this binding capability, the surface is treated with the appropriate chemicals.

6: Sizing: For protection, the fibers are coated with epoxy, nylon, polyester, and other materials. This is referred to as sizing.

The carbon fiber raw sheet is then merged together with other metals (an important part of understanding carbon fiber conductivity), and the resulting compound is treated and sized using chemical processes.

The process is in-depth and, therefore, expensive.

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Is Carbon Fiber Conductive on Its Own?

No, carbon fiber is not too conductive when it’s not combined with anything else, neither in terms of thermal nor electric conductivity.

When it comes to thermal conductivity (the ability to conduct heat), carbon fiber is average. Relatively high-quality carbon fiber has about as much heat conductivity as silicon, and even top-of-the-line carbon fiber has less conductivity than aluminum.

Plain old carbon fiber is a bit better when it comes to electrical conduction, although it’s still not as conductive as most metals. When it is being used as an electrical conductor, it’s best to modify the carbon fiber by weaving it together with other metals or by creating a more electrically conductive carbon allotrope like diamond or graphite.


How Can We Make Carbon Fiber More Conductive?

To increase electrical conductivity, the carbon fiber should be treated with other materials once it is isolated. The best compounds to combine with carbon fiber in order to increase conductivity are latex for ionic conductivity (through a liquid) and silica fume for electronic conductivity (through a solid).

How Can We Make Carbon Fiber More Conductive? | Is Carbon Fiber Conductive?

There are carbon allotropes that conduct heat much better than carbon fiber -- diamond, in particular, conducts heat up to 100x more effectively than plain carbon fiber. Creating these allotropes is far from easy, but there are processes involving pressure, heat, and other chemical reactions that make the transformations possible. If the carbon fiber is treated with these carbon allotropes when they are ready, the carbon fiber’s heat conductivity can increase many-fold.

So, is carbon fiber conductive? Not so much in its base state, but that can change easily with a little science.

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Is Carbon Fiber Conductive When Compared to Metal?

Not by itself, no. When treated with other metals, though, it is.

On its own, carbon fiber is not a great conductor of electricity compared to metal. In fact, most metals conduct electricity around 1000x as well as plain carbon fiber. Even when treated with other materials, carbon fiber is still not quite as good as metal when it comes to electricity conduction. Metals like silver, aluminum, and copper are especially good at conducting electricity, still about 100x as fast as carbon fiber treated with good electricity conductors.

Conducting thermal energy is a different story. When made well and treated correctly, carbon fiber is actually more heat conductive than a highly conductive metal like copper.


What Are the Uses Of Conductive Carbon Fiber?

Treated carbon fiber is used in luxury items like helmets and luggage that benefit from being lightweight and durable. But the conductivity of carbon fiber shines in more industrial uses like container siding in engineering and aerospace projects.

Science is still working to improve the electrical conductivity of carbon fiber. Because of its supreme durability, heat resistance, lightweight, and small size when compared to things like metal wires, it is expected that carbon fiber products will be used much more as conductors in the future.

Carbon fiber has many amazing qualities. One of them is its amazing abilities as a thermal or electrical conductor when treated with other metal composites.



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The Carbon Fiber Gear Blog is a lifestyle blog for carbon fiber enthusiasts where we talk carbon fiber gear, fabrication, and news. We will round up the coolest carbon fiber products, the best gift ideas, and uses of carbon fiber.