Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tipping Point for Carbon-Fiber Composites?

Every area of endeavor has it's Holy Grail, that magical combination of price and performance that always seems to be just out of reach, and yet if it could be obtained, would transform the world forever.

In biology and medicine, it's the $1000 genome.[1] Solar energy is always looking for that extra % of efficiency that would be a game changer. The car industry is afflicted with many such Holy Grails, such 60 mpg for a car bigger than a matchbox, or an all electric car with 400 mile range or the subject of today's post: carbon fiber composites made in a minute.

I don't have a tremendous amount of experience with carbon-fiber composites, so I never really understood why they weren't incorporated in automobiles more. I thought it was a performance issue, but apparently that isn't the case [2]. It's more a matter of cost, particularly as a function of cycle time [3]. I bring this up as in the last 48 hours I've run across 2 independent stories (Plastics Today and Composites Technology (which also has a separate editorial)) on this "1-minute" cycle time. Given this, we may finally see a significant increase in the utilization of polymers in automobiles.

[1] I'm old enough to remember when the computer industry use to crave a $1000 PC and nobody thought that was possible. Yes kiddies, the world really was once like that. Scary, huh?

[2] I certainly was aware that they were used in F1 racing bodies, but the demands for an F1 car are completely removed from those of a street car.

[3] Identifying a limiting cost only on the basis of a cycle time is pretty unusual. I'm not aware of any other case of this.

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