4M All Riders Newsletter: March 2022
Welcome back to the All Riders monthly newsletter brought to you straight from the Matt Cave!
This is "4M: The Matt Cave Moto Monthly Mailer".
So... I just finished my latest Matt Cave Moto "M²" video of ARMD supporting vendor Seminole Powersports North installing Perrelli Diablo Rosso III tires onto Rotobox carbon fiber rims, then installing the whole lot onto my 2021 Kawasaki Ninja H2. Check it out here:
I thought I'd stay in the theme for the subject of this month's newsletter and hit you up with a little bit of the history of carbon fiber.
So, when I think of carbon fiber, I think of a pretty modern, super strong, maybe even "space-aged" material that NASA probably designed (along with the Tempurpedic mattress, FYI) for use on the space shuttle or space station back in the '80s or something. The truth is that carbon fiber has actually been around for more than 150 years! Can you believe that? Well, the thing is that it has only been through manufacturing process improvements in the last half-century or so that it has been able to live up to its current reputation as the king of super strong, super light stuff. So, how and why was it invented, you ask? I'm glad you asked, cause that's what I'm about to write about.
So, this guy Joe first created carbon fiber in 1860 to use in an early light bulb. Remember those 'incandescent" things that were too dumb to turn on when you clapped or fiddled with an app on your phone. Yeah, those old things. Yes, for you young whipper-snappers... it's true... we once only had the option to "turn on" the lights ourselves. I digress. Anyway, this Joe guy decided that he needed a better conductor for said bulbs, so he gathered up some cotton and bamboo. That doesn't make a whole lotta sense, I hear you telling me. How can cotton or bamboo work as an electrically conductive filament for a lightbulb? I'm glad you asked-I'm gonna tell you.
See, all Joe needed to do was bake those cotton and bamboo filaments at high temperatures to cause "carbonization" to take place. Say it with me class: "CAR-BONE-EYE-ZAYSHON." Good! Write it down... it will be on the test. Carbonization is converting of organic matter like plants or dead animals into carbon through destructive distillation. Even Thomas Edison used cellulose-based carbon fiber filaments in some of the first light bulbs to be heated by electricity. Their high heat tolerance made them ideal electrical conductors. The baking method for carbonizing the organic matter is called "pyrolysis." "PIE-ROL-LEE-SIS. " In case you wanted to know more about pyrolysis, pyrolysis is a thermochemical treatment, which can be applied to any organic (carbon-based) product. It can be done on pure products as well as mixtures. In this pyrolysis, the material is exposed to high temperatures and, in the absence of oxygen, goes through chemical and physical separation into different molecules. So carbon fiber filaments became all the rage, and they enjoyed a pretty solid stint as top-dog. That was until tungsten became a thing. Tungsten became the lightbulb filament of choice in the early 1900s, rendering your boy carbon fiber obsolete for something like the next fifty years.
It was not until 1958 that some fella named Roger Bacon (his friends called him RB) actually produced the first petroleum-based carbon fibers while measuring the triple point of carbon. You know how tricky measuring the triple point is, right? Well, he was trying to do this by heating strands of rayon within an argon shielded space. He began to notice the filaments growing on the negative electrode of his arc furnace. He noted his findings in his "Really Important Stuff" bunder. Unfortunately, the resulting fibers were a mere 20% carbon and did not have nearly the stiffness and strength properties that are so highly valued today (that's what she said). So, RB's process left something to be desired.
In the early 1960s, Dr. Akio Shindo made the smart move of using polyacrylonitrile (PAN) as a precursor. Say it with me, class: "PEE-AYE-EN". Anyone who has seen Walt and Jesse cook a batch knows what precursor is, so I won't get into that. PAN as it were, is a synthetic, semicrystalline organic polymer resin that allowed Dr. A to create carbon fibers that were 55% carbon using a much more cost-effective production method.
Just when Dr. A thought he was the shiz, some British dudes patented a new carbon fiber manufacturing process. This much better process created a much stronger carbon fiber product than previous processes yielded. These guys sold the whole operation to Rolls Royce. Although they were already producing carbon fiber, this new process was like the blue stuff vs. Jesse's "Cap N Cook" chili powder crap. This new process allowed Rolls to use carbon fiber for their jet engine fan blades.
1970: A joint technology agreement allowed Union Carbide to produce PAN-based carbon fiber previously only manufactured by Toray Industries in Japan. Since the late 1970s, several other types of carbon fiber yarn have entered the global market. Over the earliest versions, these new fibers contain up to 95% carbon fiber and have considerably increased tensile strength and modulus (a constant factor or ratio) of elasticity. Toray Industries now manufactures carbon fibers with a tensile strength of 4,0000 MPa and a modulus of 400GPa. (that's like super good, yo). Additionally, improved processes have aided in decreasing production costs. These improvements in strength, elasticity, and cost led engineers in the 1990s and 2000s to finally fully understand the vast potential of carbon fiber in a variety of manufacturing applications, making it a favorite design choice today.
Fancy yourself a Carbon Cowboy? If roping wayward iron steeds is your jam, you can get one of these here. This thing is real, and it aint cheap at $299.00