What is a Carbon Fiber?  

Alternative Material: Carbon Fiber - Sheet1
Alternative Material: Carbon Fiber - Sheet2

Fibers of 5-10 micrometers in diameter that are mainly composed of carbon atoms are known as Carbon Fibers. Carbon Fiber is a polymer and is commonly known as graphite fiber. It is well-known for the strength-to-weight ratio that made it popular as an alternative building material for steel and aluminium. 

Carbon Fiber is very strong, light in weight, and possesses more stiffness than steel. The strength of a Carbon Fiber is 5 times more than that of steel, which makes it an ideal, alternative building material favoured by architects and engineers in the construction industry worldwide. Carbon Fibers together can be either twisted into a cloth or can be moulded into permanent shapes with the help of resins. Because of their flexibility and strength, Carbon Fibers are widely used in many industries like construction, aerospace, automotive, military, etc. 

History of Carbon Fiber

Alternative Material: Carbon Fiber - Sheet3
Thomas Alva Edison, Light Bulb _© www.history.com

A throwback to 1879 when the father of the light bulb, Thomas Edison baked bamboo silvers/cotton threads at high temperatures that lead to the process of carbonization of these threads, which turned them into all-Carbon Fiber filaments that were used in the first incandescent light bulbs. 

Next in 1958, high-performance Carbon Fibers were invented outside of Cleveland. Later in 1963, a new process of manufacturing Carbon Fibers in which its strength and stiffness were enhanced was developed by a British Research Center.

A Composite Building Material  

Carbon Fiber revolutionized the field of building engineering and design. Its limitless flexibility as a material that has the capability to be twisted into infinite geometrical shapes, possessing strength and beauty in high-performance areas makes Carbon Fiber a go-to material with minimal limitations. Carbon Fiber has a wide range of applications and is the most famous Composite Building Material available in the industry. Carbon Fiber Reinforced composite materials help strengthen the structure keeping it strong, flexible, and light.   

Alternative Material: Carbon Fiber - Sheet4
BUGA Fiber Pavilion, 2019, ICD/ITKE University of Stuttgart _© (Available on www.architectmagazine.com )
Alternative Material: Carbon Fiber - Sheet5
BUGA Fiber Pavilion, 2019, ICD/ITKE University of Stuttgart_© (Available on www.architectmagazine.com )

Carbon Fiber is becoming the future of fabrication. For example, the BUGA Fiber Pavilion above is a dome made out of glass, using the support of a tightly knit network of Carbon Fibers in a transparent membrane. The Carbon Fibers here allows the membrane to take a flexible shape and geometry to handle the designed load on the structure. Depending on the respective structural loads, these Carbon Fibers take various special arrangements and networks to deal with various structural loads it’s subjected to. 

Alternative Material: Carbon Fiber - Sheet6
Bridge Design _© (Available on www.teijincarbon.com )
Alternative Material: Carbon Fiber - Sheet7
Bridge built with Carbon Fiber Reinforcement _© (Available on www.strongtie.com )

Carbon Fiber on the other hand has been gaining popularity in Public Infrastructure, especially public transportations like bridges that expand over magnificent spans, taking continuous structural loads ranging    

from live loads to dead loads, to wind loads, etc. The Carbon Fiber Reinforced bridges allow the structure to expand up to 65ft over a single span, creating un-obstructed large spanned structures that are capable of delivering high-performance. 

Carbon Fiber is also used for structural strengthening. Carbon Fiber laminates are used to improve the existing strength of the structures. By laminating Carbon Fiber to the structural elements of the structures like beams, columns, and ceilings, etc can not only improve the strength of the existing structure but also optimizes the overall functioning.

Reinforced Polymer _© (Available on www.theconstructor.org )

Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymer is used as a replacement for steel. The weight of the steel is structurally replaced by Carbon Fiber, therefore reducing the weight of the entire structural unit and increasing the strength of bearing adverse loads in extreme conditions. Unlike steel, Carbon Fiber is chemically stable and corrosion-resistant and hence can withstand the test of time.

Carbon Fiber used in automotive_ © (Available on www.theguardian.com )

Carbon Fiber is also used in automotive industries. Car’s designed for high-speed performance aims to have its body as light and strong as possible to handle all kinds of strong forces acting on it. Therefore, Carbon Fiber is used in the car-making industry for add-on performance and manufacturing of various parts of the entire fabric.

Carbon Fiber is not just limited to a single industry. The versatility and flexibility and strength it exhibits make this material an ideal alternative to solve any problem that arises with respect to the strength to weight ratio in designing any structure. Since 2012, the demand for Carbon Fiber in world industries has sky-rocketed. Its production and potential use has been gaining significant importance globally. 

Did we find a replacement for steel? Is Carbon Fiber an alternative material for the future of the world? 








An architect, academic & an aspiring writer. Anvitha believes architecture is a way of life & written communication acts as a medium in connecting people & architecture. Embracing the other side of her life, she loves travelling, cooking , singing , dancing & is dying to be a dog parent one day.