Australia has the capacity to produce carbon fibers at a scaled-up level. The wet spinning line will enable the country to carry out carbon fiber research starting from molecules to fully finished components. The carbon fiber research capability could disrupt the carbon fiber industry. The carbon fiber facility will help Australia develop the next generation high performance carbon fibers.
The wet spinning capability develops strands of thin fibers, which are thinner than human hair, which are then carbonized. An Italian company built the wet spinning line. The raw material used to make carbon fiber is called the precursor. About 90 per cent of the carbon fibers produced are made from polyacrylonitrile. The remaining 10 per cent is made from rayon or petroleum pitch.
The process for making carbon fibers is part chemical and part mechanical. The precursor is drawn into long strands or fibers and then heated to a very high temperature without allowing it to come in contact with oxygen. Without oxygen, the fiber cannot burn. Instead, the high temperature causes the atoms in the fiber to vibrate violently until most of the non-carbon atoms are expelled. This process is called carbonization and leaves a fiber composed of long, tightly inter-locked chains of carbon atoms with only a few non-carbon atoms remaining.