Researchers from CSIRO and Deakin Univerisity can now manufacture carbon fibres from scratch.
Back in 2010, the Australian and Victorian Governments, Deakin University and CSIRO committed $102 million to the establishment of a centre dedicated to advanced materials, including carbon fibres: the Australian Future Fibres Research and Innovation Centre (AFFRIC) at Deakin’s Waurn Ponds Campus in Geelong.
And the investment is paying off, as Geelong is emerging as a major hub for carbon fibre technology. It includes AFFRIC's $34 million hi-tech carbon fibre facility, Carbon Nexus, and manufacturers such as the maker of a one-piece carbon fibre wheel, Carbon Revolution, and advanced composites company Quickstep Technologies.
And through a new capability at Carbon Nexus, Australia has now also joined an elite club of nations with the capacity to produce carbon fibres across the whole value chain - from molecules, to polymers, to fibre, to finished composite parts.
Based on patented technology from CSIRO, the facility’s researchers found a way to produce what they believe is the next generation of the advanced material.
Carbon fibres are expensive to make but they combine high rigidity, tensile strength and chemical resistance with low weight.
These unique features make them an ideal replacement of traditional materials such as steel and aluminium, for example in planes and space-crafts, where their use has been pioneered.
But carbon fibres have also become a benchmark material in many areas of civil engineering and the military, in cars, and also in competitive sports. There are also several applications in science, including as carbon fibre electrodes often used in neuroscience.
At the Geelong facility, the fibre is manufactured on a custom built wet spinning line that takes a sticky mix of precursor chemicals and turns it into five hundred individual strands of fibre, each thinner than a human hair.
They’re then wound onto a spool to create a tape which is then further processed to carbon fibres in carbonisation ovens.
The outcome is a product that is stronger and of higher quality than anywhere else in the world. According to Dr Anita Hill, the director of CSIRO Future Industries, the product may even disrupt the entire carbon fibre manufacturing industry.