The preparation of carbon fibres: a study of the physics and chemistry of the preparation of carbon fibres from acrylic precursors

  • Philip G. Rose

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


High strength, high modulus carbon fibres are becoming increasingly important as high performance engineering materials. This thesis describes how they may be prepared by heat treatment from filaments spun from polyacrylonitrile and its copolymers.
The chemistry of the first stages of heat treatment is very important in controlling the mechanical properties of the carbonised product. A cyclisation reaction has been found to be responsible for the relatively high thermal stability of pyrolysed polyacrylonitrile, but without oxidation the fibres degrade and fuse. An initial
oxidation stage is, therefore, essential to the preparation of fibre of high orientation. The cyclised product of pyrolysis is probably a poly 1,4 dihydropiridine and oxidation converts this to aromatic structures, and cyclised structures containing carbonyl and other oxygenated groups. Oxidation is found to assist the carbon fibre preparation process, by producing a product which condenses at an earlier stage of heat treatment, before fusion can occur.
Carbon fibre strength and modulus are dependent upon producing a highly oriented crystal structure. While oxidation of the polymer stabilises the fibre so as to prevent disorientation, further large increases in orientation, with a commensurate improvement in strength and modulus, can be obtained by stretching at temperatures above 1,700 °C. This process is analogous to the way fibre orientation is increased by the stretching of the precursor.
A lamellar graphite structure can be created in high temperature fibre, by carefully controlling the degree of oxidation. This type of graphite can produce very high values of Young's modulus. More often, however, graphite fibre has a fibrillar fine structure, which is explicable in terms of continuous graphite ribbons.
A ribbon model is the most satisfactory representation of the structure of carbon fibre, as it explains the mechanism of the development of long range order and the variation of Young's modulus with crystalline preferred orientation.
Date of AwardOct 1971
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorGerald Scott (Supervisor)


  • preparation
  • carbon fibres
  • acrylic precursors

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